What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function?
A document has trouble defining itself.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymological origin derives from 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 acted upon 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 Gittelman 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. As such, the time spent on the-documents.org turns into a new document.
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Contact: info [@] the-documents.org
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.
Gittelman, L. Paper Knowledge. Toward a Media History of Documents. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2014.
Oxford English Dictionary Online. Accessed on 13.05.2021.
Concerning wallpaper design, misconceptions abound. The corporate aura, the anonymity of the designer behind the design, the reproducibility of the product, (enhanced by) the reproducibility of the pattern… all don’t do much for the appreciation of the artistry needed to come up with a product that is both visible and invisible.
Behind my screen, designing, I tend to think in sociological and age-categories: there’s your formula-1-wallpaper-pattern for the son’s bedroom, which matches the stately beige of the parents’ bedroom; wallpaper with bouquets of flowers for the retired history teacher; an abstract pattern in Mondrianian fashion for the childless thirty-something couple with the downtown condo.
New technologies have altered the market in an unforeseen way. Now, everyone can get his or her personal wallpaper – which sounded like an oxymoron when the idea was first pitched at HQ – printed on demand.
Customer Service has been busy answering upset clients ever since – clients agitated by the overtly present wallpaper they thought of and without much ado instantly ordered and hung. This didn’t come as a surprise to me. Try not getting agitated, or downright crazy, staring each day facing that same family picture of your 2009 Greek holiday, 300 times.
A designer remains crucial. In a way, my designing capacities are really getting tested. Now, I’m getting commissions for personalized wallpapers. In three sessions of each an hour and a half at the customer’s house, in the room where the wallpaper will be hung (USD125 per hour, design, production and placement not included), I take interviews with the customers to get a grip on their life story, the key events that have shaped them, their plans for the future. Meanwhile, I take notes on the objects hanging on the wall – photographs, paintings, calendars… – that will serve as the foreground to my work.
Within five working days I’ll send them a proposal, which, if I’ve got any talent for this job, they’ll barely notice.