What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymological origin is the Latin ‘documentum’, meaning ‘lesson, proof, instance, specimen’. As a verb, it is ‘to prove or support (something) by documentary evidence’, and ‘to provide with documents’. The online version of the OED includes a draft addition, whereby a document (as a noun) is ‘a collection of data in digital form that is considered a single item and typically has a unique filename by which it can be stored, retrieved, or transmitted (as a file, a spreadsheet, or a graphic)’. The current use of the noun ‘document’ is defined as ‘something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc.’ (emphasis added).
Both ‘something’ and that first ‘etc.’ leave ample room for discussion. A document doubts whether it functions as something unique, or as something reproducible. A passport is a document, but a flyer printed in offset equally so. Moreover, there is a circular reasoning: to document is ‘to provide with documents’. Defining (the functioning of) a document most likely involves ideas of communication, information, evidence, inscriptions, and implies notions of objectivity and neutrality – but the document is neither reducible to one of them, nor is it equal to their sum. It is hard to pinpoint it, as it disperses into and is affected by other fields: it is intrinsically tied to the history of media and to important currents in literature, photography and art; it is linked to epistemic and power structures. However ubiquitous it is, as an often tangible thing in our environment, and as a concept, a document deranges.
The-documents.org gathers documents and provides them with a short textual description, explanation, or digression, written by multiple authors. Regularly, new files will be added, and old files will be altered. In Paper Knowledge, Lisa Gitelman paraphrases ‘documentalist’ Suzanne Briet, stating that ‘an antelope running wild would not be a document, but an antelope taken into a zoo would be one, presumably because it would then be framed – or reframed – as an example, specimen, or instance’. The files gathered on this website are all documents – if they weren’t before publication, they now are. That is what this website, irreversibly, does. It is a zoo turning an antelope into an ‘antelope’.
Navigating the website can be done in different ways. There are links in the textual descriptions leading to other documents; there is a collection of all files published; at the right, the sidebar allows users to filter and arrange files based on themes, authors, types, etc. You can hit ‘random’. As the visitor makes his/her/their way through the collection, the-documents.org tracks the entries that have been viewed. It documents the path through the website. Your path can be saved digitally, printed at home, or ordered as a book. As such, the time spent on the-documents.org turns into a new document.
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Contact: info [@] the-documents.org
De Cleene De Cleene is Michiel De Cleene and Arnout De Cleene. Together they form a research group that focusses on novel ways of approaching the everyday, by artistic means and from a cultural and critical perspective.
contact: info [@] decleenedecleene.be
This project was made possible with the support of the Flemish Government and KASK, the School of Arts of HOGENT and Howest.
Briet, S. Qu’est-ce que la documentation? Paris: Edit, 1951.
Gitelman, L. Paper Knowledge. Toward a Media History of Documents. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2014.
Oxford English Dictionary Online. Accessed on 13.05.2021.
Recreational airfield at Grimbergen, webcam footage.
09:10:00The frame shows the first movement on the terrain. The gate has been opened, the barrier lowered. A black car is in the back. In the forefront, aviation signs on the ground: a yellow cross on a surface painted red; an arrow in a 90° angular shape; two circles connected by a line; a T-shaped line.
09:20:00Two men talking, each one on one side of the barrier. The man on the side of the airstrip has two dogs with him. The aviation signs have changed: the arrow is gone; the horizontal bar of the T-symbol has moved to the other side of the vertical line; one yellow line that made up the cross on the red surface is gone, leaving one yellow diagonal line.
10:09:01A small white aircraft (the two men and the dogs are gone).
10:20:01The aircraft in the same position, with what seems to be an open roof.
10:40:00Aircraft leaving the gas station where it was before.
11:10:01A white car at the gas station, where previously the aircraft was stationed; a silhouette of a man, perhaps.
11:30:01White car gone.
11:50:01Small white aircraft at the gas station; man in red jacket next to the aircraft. Not clear if it is the same aircraft seen in frame 10:09:01.
12:10:01Aircraft appears to be heading for take-off.
12:40:01White dots on the grass that appear to be birds.
14:10:00First precipitation: snow, visibility lessens.
14:20:00More snow, wind is stronger; someone has replaced the yellow stripe so that, again, a yellow cross is formed on the red background.
15:10:00The grass and the concrete get increasingly white. No aircrafts, vehicles or persons can be discerned. The aviation signs beneath the thin-layered snow are still visible, and unaltered.
Every so often architects ask me to photograph projects of theirs under a blanket of snow. Snow-days are rare around here. In an attempt to avoid a futile drive along roads in winter conditions, I check webcams near the project-to-be-photographed before setting out.
Webcam Grimbergen, meteobelgie.be: https://www.meteobelgie.be/waarnemingen/belgie/webcam/272/grimbergen