What Is a Document?

An exchange between Thomas Keenan and Hito Steyerl
Author(s): Thomas Keenan and Hito Steyerl
Source: Aperture, No. 214, Documentary, Expanded (Spring 2014), pp. 58-64
Published by: Aperture Foundation, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24474931
Accessed: 27-05-2017 16:15 UTC

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted
digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about
JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

Aperture Foundation, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to

This content downloaded from on Sat, 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC
All use subject to http://about.jstor.org/terms

§ OCT . 3) Tear Where Indicated and Retain Evidence Receipt. i HUNTER PLACE TSVILLE.1 .y Com) No — TGAB HEBE SEA ED HV: C L . INC. . CAUTION ATTEMPTS TO REOPEN WILL DISTORT SEALED AREA Condltior )f ^ag when Opened: □ Sealed D Other Opened tj D te_ NGER PRINT LABORATORIES.jstor. EvWence/P«>Per. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about.-_Jk -S £ -f evidence/ppopertv Agency P Ic Id IN tnl L3 j z s o 5 m & TO USE: 1) Remove Relec e Liner from Flap.66 on Sat.226. Itc. BAG IS NOW SEALED. <8001 899-8181 APERTURE 58 This content downloaded from 128.9001 J56-731* FAX: 554-2258.org/terms . 2) Fold Where Indi ated. 275% L PHONE: (919) 554-2244..136.

jstor.66 on Sat. evidence. 2002 ©Tarik Samarah What Is a Document? An exchange between Thomas KeenanKeenan Thomas and Hito HitoSteyerl Steyerl Theorist Thomas Keenan and artist Hito Steyerl mainta an ongoing dialogue about the fraught relationships between politics.org/terms . WORDS 59 This content downloaded from 128.136. they continue that conversation and trace the etymology of the commonly used but contested word document back to its original meaning. "to teach. In the following email exchange.Tarik Tarik Samarah.226. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about. Kamenica near Zvornik. and images. central conce of their respective practices. 2002. July 22." This early association provides a useful key for unlockin the shifting role of documents and evidence in our rapidly evolving media environment. Repubtika Srpska. The wire was used to fasten the hands of a victim from Srebrenica. Samarah. Aluminum Aluminum wire taken from a secondary mass grave.

Hello Hito. and most especially. I think that we. The document still has something to teach us. But. Evidence—whether it's a written document. it constitutes a trace.org/terms . to teach. but examples to the document of all others. That is what happens to documents. or an object—opens the case. Reflecting on this. 2012 Courtesy Forensic Architecture in collaboration with Situ Research APERTURE 60 This content downloaded from 128. we generally aim to put an end to further questioning. in trials and in political life. politics. What's interesting about this is the way it sidesteps Video still of 3 D model of a drone strike in Miranshah. modes of representing things that happen in the world.136. In Aries and Frankfurt over the last couple of years. often forget this sense of the instructive instance when we talk about documentary and documentation today. their meanings explored and contrasted." The event that is documented) does not fully coincide with itself. interpretation— and other interpretations. When we say that something is evidence or proof. documentary today often seems to be designed to shut down deliberation. and even warning. They are contested. a testimony. in fact. April 1. which is pedagogically oriented toward the future. but they are not exactly the same. Interpreters gather around them in disagreement because they have something to teach. dispute. evidence. too. anyway? So I turned to the dictionary. as in this usage from 1660: "Punishment goes to the prisoner. debate. Something is presented for consideration. forensics. what is a document. you and I have been circling around a thicket of questions about the documentary. Rather than teaching us something.66 on Sat. I found myself asking. It's not difficult to see how the meaning traveled from this notion of "exemplary lesson" to the contemporary sense of evidentiary proof. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about.226. but not always as unequivocally as the punishment administered to the prisoner. Pakistan. One needs to learn from it. Evidence in a legal context does not close the case. or is doubled as an exemplum. and to generate a decision or a judgment. The word document in English comes from the Latin docere. to impose the force of fact.jstor. and the earliest uses cited by the OED associate it less with evidence than with instruction. we can't.

Nowadays. I guess the notion of document has traveled even further in documents that are being the past two decades.jstor. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about. of people's behaviors and velocity. June 26. it is ripped or doubled from what happens. Vilem Flusser and Peter Weibel already remarked on this when they saw how Romanian protesters stormed television stations and started making history in '89. Brazil. spre and built it. a document is defined its content or its relation to reality than by its affective punch metadata. any kind of document. ca by means of the constituency that shared. and habits.226.66 on Sat. but rather documents flying and swirling around people by way of social media. to the document as trigger and catalyst of events.136.org/terms . Belo Horizonte. The document retains a tie to "what happened" by virtue of its specimen or exemplary status. replete with eternal anxiety over whether it is true or accurate or not. Tom One may even have to start a major push to erase most Hello Tom. via algorithms and dispersion and dissemination. which means it's the lesson that somehow has primacy. no evidentiary procedures whatsoever. WORDS 61 This content downloaded from 128. So within the last twenty-five years we have experienced a massive shift from the document as evidence. Photograph by Midia Ninja Courtesy Midia Ninja the question of authenticity and truth. and claim the right there are no fact-checks. rather than the event. _ But once launched. People decide whether to share and enforce their claims or not. Nevertheless it changes the subject from a never-ending fixation on the document's truthfulness and all the convoluted and paranoid vocabulary surrounding it. When a picture of an atrocity spreads on Facebook. Within contemporary technologies of created. but in order to teach. whether it actually iOr people to go undocumented* even documents anything. it's less about people surrounding documents. 2013.Right: Protests during the Confederation Cup semifinals.

work with them things happen—because an interpreter. Project. pixelating. a photo a photo and andvideo video app app for Android for Android phones phones that that allows allows users users to toobscure obscure people's people's faces faces and andprotect protect theirtheir identities identities by bypixelating. The Theapp. Obscuracam. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about. is it staged?" neurosis and the police forces of documentary security who want to protect us from the new claims it candeceits # manifold provoke. itself.org/terms . each with their own protocols for establishing the V/hen W© Sldlllit t frtstt th© truth. or simply pay attention. as you say. The document claim-making machine. or algorithmic predictions. takes an interest. catalyze. political. arg what it means and trying to have it teach differen there is something hollow about every one of them why we can disagree about them. and new politics to help bl*lllg But it's no wonder that the an may not have any verifiable relation to reality. prosecute the deed. anything they still have to claim that they do. may n those claims into being. was it new networks it canphotoshopped. this integrates politics into the foundations of documents themselves. even if sometimes they APERTURE 62 This content downloaded from 128. redacting.S.226. inscribe them in struggles. and glasses. instead of using them within pre-established legal. Courtesy Guardian Project But on the other hand a document on its own—even if it provides perfect and irrefutable proof—doesn't mean anything.136. there is no point to its existence. or journalistic scenarios. I share your weariness with the "is it fake. Also. actually) gathers around it.66 on Sat.developed developed by by Guardian Guardian Project. app. a vector. from (before) the start. but then again. also also removes removes all identifying all identifying data datastored stored in digital in digital photographs photographs including including GPS GPSlocation location and phone and phone make and model. Social media is concerned with building constituencies around documents. taking _ on the form of metadata.Photograph Photograph edited edited with with Obscuracam. If there is no one willing to back the claim. an operational form. why bother? People realized this in the 1990s— transparency or public-ness didn't change a thing. If evidence of human rights violations is only followed up when the U. which document can't speak tor again modifies their relation to reality in a dramatic way. make claims for them. of the image. i required. show anything actual or even. Hi again. stru so that even if it's hollow it can and will go on fun And since no document conveys its meaning une or speaks for itself—that is why a crowd (different different settings. we can start to map Hlt0 out new routes it can take. very often in the most wacky ways. or orcovering coveringthemthem with a with a funny funny nose nose and glasses.jstor. But they also wo They are not simply inert. documents are fundamentally shape-shifting. redacting.

jstor. June 11.226. and new politics to help bring those claims into being. 2013. Paulo.org/terms . and it's happening all around us.rs at Sé at SeChurch. Photograph by Midia Ninja networks they create by linking us to other realities. things to us.2013. we can start to map out new routes it can take. June 11. other Photograph byCourtesy . Church. T proof really is culpable. new networks fell V* dn it can catalyze.66 on Sat.up a lot of resistance to their use and abuse. But w happened. new claims it can provoke. t there is not only truth or f response. that were also triggers for act slaughter they showed. Courtesy Midia Midia Ninja Midia Ninja Ninja images. It would be wrong Military police throw Military police throw gas bombs at protesters to think about them as instruments or tools. Brazil. . 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about. or the advocacy each protester without one. other interpreter You are right that they d the '90s taught us this—th Sarajevo live on TV.SâoSao Paulo.136. . When we admit that the document can'ta mix between speak an electronics for itself. The street strategy that accompanied Amy starts to Ziering lookTracy and like Dick's T 2012 film The Invisible War about rape within the U. Waiting around to properly doesn't seem I think your notion of a into the foundations of documents themselves" is exactly . What we can b political and military deci do our work for us. right. the reverse-engineering of surveillance and tracking data there are five masked people withand by the Forensic Oceanography a tablet Watchdevice forMed projects. pStlfltll Tom WORDS 63 This content downloaded from 128. though they do ga* b°"]bs at Pr_ot®5te. w the the drone strike visualizations done for the UN by the Forensic Architecture team at Goldsmiths.S. military. a . whether at the level of individual affect or in the Brazil. Think of the Facebook 11 campaign by the civil resistance in Kafrnabel in Syria.

Images are not a matter for specialists anymore—anyone an electronics fair and an Old Masters painting gallery with can produce them in great numbers—so in a way.documents. out in the streets.jstor. live activity and less about retroactive interpretation of objects. In this situation. conflict. imbalance between an overwhelming lack of justice and equality People want to make a record of what's happening. was published last year by Sternberg Press. APERTURE 64 This content downloaded from 128. and even shockingly. But this is just a temporary situation created by a huge Hi Hito. The event is being made across that hasn't yet been properly understood. Most evidence of anything in an instit do are already a privileged minority. But isn't that what we've been talking about: how new sorts of documents—from jihadi martyrdom videos to viral human rights campaigns— produced by otherwise unheard-of persons and forces and circulated in unprecedented ways. expression of what people are doing: they reframe and re-edit At this moment one may even have to start a major push to reality. paradoxically. send it and show it to others. The street starts to look like a mix between forums. we which anyone could argue about t because most documents are not e assessments could be made. just the right amount. which opened at 2009 essay "In Defense of the Poor Image. Hi Tom. Or. of people's behaviors and habits and claim the right that each person thus becomes perfectly trackable. Actually. off the grid. Of course there is also a erase most documents that are being created. politics. But in both existing forums (especially international legal and media one about the corresponde ones) but try to bring new ones into existence? In order more about something diffe for the "irrelevant" documents to have a chance? If so. concerns have hundreds of glowing tablets held up high above heads. some document's truth in certain forums. In many cases. encoding. a range of concerns. it could be more productive and feedback loops. In the lab school so to speak. notably politics enough. in real time.org/terms . can themselves start to force new forums into existence. because there is a massive oversaturation of visual dissemination. presenting it to a pub 'facilitating a place of public debate" and "insisting on Sometimes in that fleeting. documents Carles Guerra) the traveling exhibition of the Screen. but rather in the more forensic sense of making something I'm not sure I understand your distinction between evident." Do you mean other times in proper labs that we shouldn't be content with or limit ourselves to 3-D animations. and to regain some Hito control over when to be documented or not. 27 May 2017 16:15:30 UTC All use subject to http://about. editing. let it loose. to facilitate a place of public debate. images. and we could make sense of The Human Snapshot (Ram Publications. ba He coedited. including her celebrated F • • • • Antiphotojournalism. If there weren't (Stanford. all. events are made with and ou I'm with you. 2013). things are always getting He is the author of Fables of Responsibility lost. traveling from cloud to cobblestone. is far exceeding the territory. dispute. Hito Steyerl is a filmmaker and writer of too much and not enough. and in 2010. on. video. including the obvious fact metadata. it it all. They are also making evidence. the stuff themselves but equally and maybe more importantly of the that actually causes it to expand and disintegrate at a speed events being documented. forgotten. and mediation—not only of the documents material. rather. haven't we always been oversaturated and moving too slowly to catch up with everything? There are always too many Thomas words Keenan teaches literary and and too many images and too many sounds to be able to clearly political figure theory at Bard political theory at Bard College where College where he directs the Human Rights Project. with Tirdad Zolghadr. documentary (photographic. they are making documents in that old sense Hito of "instruction" with which we began this conversation. unseen. I'm not so sure. make a claim. Which is to say. and how much. encrypting. 2012). but they and an almost unprecedented ability for people to create also want to do something with it: tell a story. for people to go undocumented. can spark new debates. if somehow there was just Mengele's Skull (Sternberg Press. actually most." Tom La Virreina Centre de I'image. we'd we'dhave nono have need forfor need politics. The map. etc. Barcelona. I think. Most documents share the fate of most images and remain It is the making—live streaming.or offline. they are our researchers and our what. needs to be documented. interpretatior conflict.) records. Hi Tom. overlooked. where Sometimes this looks rather funny: in some contemporary people can share and debate about the images and data they are riots there are five masked people with a tablet device for each producing rather than insist on a document's truth in certain protester without one. out what's going on. with Eyal Weizman. Tablets shifted from interpreting documents according to predetermined have replaced flags or protest signs. and the digital circulation of images.226. cocurated (with A collection of her diSDUte . you're right. different platforms and networks. as a stack of actions. via algorithms and lot of silliness and danger with that. and not only put new questions on the agenda but also change the way that agenda is constructed? As for oversaturation. instructors. They are the dark matter of the visual world. It is about rethinking of the streets.. maybe even more than the interpretive battles within them. because it's certainly the case that the existing documents as well—and that forums are extremely restricted in terms of what sorts of Tom documents cross their threshold and why. not in the se Hi Hito. interpretation.136.this combination 1997) and. it is a very clear protocols to making and disseminating them.66 on Sat. and in terms of the interpretive protocols they allow. The important battle is at these thresholds.