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.
On 12 October 2022, I see a third orange Sparta K-10 listed on marktplaats.nl, after Tineke and Fred‘s. It is sold by one Fr from Zevenaar. Fr put the bike up for sale four days earlier. According to Fr, it is a ‘luxury station bike’ and ‘camping bike’. He is asking 199 euros for it. Fr explains the bike as follows:
‘Luxury sparta unisex bike with 3-speed shimano-nexus.
Looks like new.
Please note……fixed price!
Ideal for station, camping or for some nice touring.
Front and rear battery lighting
Handy front and rear luggage rack
Comfortable drifter saddle
Integrated cable lock
Large dingdong bell
A real eye-catcher’1
According to Fr, the price is fixed, but on the website you can make an offer, albeit only from 199 euros. Fr’s Sparta K-10 has three gears. The Sparta K-10s of Tineke, John and Fred that are still for sale do not have gears, the Sparta K-10s in Rue Verte in Brussels and on cyclonewebshop.be do not have them, and in the 2011 Sparta leaflet we did not see that option either. In short, we come across a Sparta K-10 with gears for the first time. There is a small typing error in Fr’s explanation in Dutch – the t in geïntegreerd is missing – but those who like to browse on marktplaats.nl read smoothly over that. One of the photos of Fr’s ad shows the loop attached to the back of the bike. You can clearly see how that loop forms the end of an integrated cable lock.
‘Luxe sparta unisex fiets met 3 versnellingen shimano-nexus.
Opvallend design exemplaar.
Ziet er uit als nieuw.
Let op……vaste prijs!
Ideaal voor station, camping of zo om lekker mee te toeren.
Batterijverlichting voor én achter
Handig bagagerek voor én achter
Comfortabel drifter zadel
Grote dingdong bel
Een echte eye-catcher’
Lars Kwakkenbos lives and works in Brussels and Ghent (B). He teaches at KASK & Conservatorium in Ghent, where he is currently working on the research project ‘On Instructing Photography’ (2023-2024), together with Michiel and Arnout De Cleene.