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.
Fred from Zwolle offers two Sparta K-10s on Marktplaats.nl on 29 September 2022. The asking price for the two bikes is 250 euros, bids may start from 200 euros. The green bike has a front light that is powered by a rim dynamo, while in another photo we see a front light on the orange bike that is presumably battery-powered, as may be the case for the rear lights. The carrier mounted at the front of the green bike is clearly a luggage carrier, as is the one at the back. What the carrier mounted at the front of the orange bike is for, is unclear. The description of the bikes does mention the function of the loop protruding from the frame at the back of the Sparta K-10:
‘20-inch bikes that we have always used while camping. No gears but smooth and light pedalling. Ideal for running small errands close by or a quick errand in the toilet building. They are light and quite short making them easy to take on the train. Ideal as a short-distance bike between station and work. Both are, furthermore, in good condition. Each bike comes with a key for the integrated cable lock. Are listed as a ladies’ bike but I (male) get on just fine.’1
’20 inch fietsen die wij altijd tijdens het kamperen hebben gebruikt. Geen versnellingen maar soepel en licht trappend. Ideaal om kleine boodschappen dichtbij te doen of een snelle boodschap in het toilet gebouw. Ze zijn licht en vrij kort waardoor ze makkelijk mee te nemen zijn in de trein. Ideaal als korte afstandfiets tussen station en werk. Beiden zijn verder in goede staat. Van elke fiets beide sleutels aanwezig voorzien van een geïntegreerd kabelslot.Worden als damesfiets genoemd maar ik (man) kom er prima mee vooruit.’
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.