Modernity and the division of labour

The success of modernity was built on specialization. The most famous example is the manufacture of the Ford Model T car. The T-Ford was introduced in 1908. It cost $950. In 1913 Henry Ford started to rationalize the production. Ford was inspired by his studies of the meatpacking industry in Chicago and Cincinnati. There, the carcasses moved in overhead carts between the meat cutters. The labour was divided in a way so that each meat-cutter only performed one particular job. This disassembly line principle was transplanted to become the Ford assembly line. Car parts moved along the line at a steady pace between autoworkers who performed specific tasks. After the assembly line principle had been introduced, the time to manufacture a Model T chassis was reduced from twelve and a half man-hours, to one man-hour and thirty-three minutes. By 1916 the price of the Model T – because of its more efficient manufacture – had dropped to $360.

More than 15 million T-Fords were manufactured, and the project turned into a great financial success. But Henry Ford's vision, to "build a motor car for the great multitude," transcended the purely economic. He was in many ways an a-typical capitalist who designed Model T to be a cheap car that worked well. When Ford invested money in rationalizing production, his shareholders brought him to court – they did not care about the long-term benefits of rationalization.

Modernism and the notion of the autonomous artist

The brainwave of specialization soon spread to all areas of society. From the 1930s Clement Greenberg, the great American critic, advocated the notion that the various disciplines of modernist art should pursue the search of their own intrinsic nature. Division of labour meant that the artist should stay and work in his studio, and restrict himself to one particular discipline – he should not jumble different art forms together. The artist should not interest himself in what was going on outside his discipline, neither should he comment or expound upon his art. That was the job for the critic and the art historian, while a gallerist took care of the material aspects of distribution. The supposed autonomy of the artist was thus protected from two sides, one as regards 'content', and the other vis-à-vis the economy.

Engineering not enough to propel the market

By the late 1920s the market share of the T-Ford started to decrease, in spite of the fact that it was continually improved and its price reduced – by 1927 it cost $290. In the mid 1920s General Motors, Ford’s main competitor, realized that in order to expand on a long-term basis, GM needed to compete with other factors than economy and engineering – aesthetic factors. They had to convince customers to buy new cars. World famous is Henry Ford’s quote about Model T’s colour: "any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it is black"; General Motors introduced a Color and Styling department. Henry Ford, the engineer, had vowed to make only one type of car; General Motors introduced the yearly model change. When making investments, Henry Ford did not borrow money – he wanted his customers to follow his example and refused to sell cars on credit; General Motors introduced financing schemes, so that their customers could buy the latest model without delay.

The birth of image economy

General Motors’ Color and Styling section was led by Harley Earl who had a background in customizing cars for Hollywood stars. He became the most influential designer in the history of the automobile. He devised the tail fin, the Corvette, the concept car, the auto show, and the horizontal stripe. The latter was introduced on the 1927 Cadillac La Salle. This horizontal element made the La Salle look lower, longer and faster. Such a visual component – either as an indentation on the car body itself or as a stripe made of chrome, plastic, rubber or adhesive tape – is still to be seen on the majority of cars today. Explaining his design philosophy in the mid-1950s, Earl said, "Design these days means taking a bigger step each year. Our job is to hasten obsolescence. In 1934 the average car ownership span was five years; now it is two years. When it is one year, we will have a perfect score."

Subsequent to Ford's revolutionary production rationalization, General Motors was the first major modern corporation to make the irrational aspects of consumption a fundamental part of its business practice, while the conglomerate itself had an exceptionally efficient structure with the chief purpose to show a profit. Alfred P Sloan Jr, GM’s director from 1923, stated that, "the primary object of the corporation… was to make money, not just to make motorcars." Sloan, the management genius, used the Prussian army as a model when he gave General Motors a staff-and-line organization – a structure it retains to the present day, and the prototype for the anatomy of most of today’s large businesses. Under the quarter century long leadership of Sloan, General Motors became the largest company in the world.

Super image becomes brand

By the end of the 1920s, the motorcar had become more than a machine. It had become an object of desire, and – like the rising film industry – a part of an image economy. At the time the notion of the autonomous modernist artist must have made some kind of sense, the idea being that there still would be an incorruptible space left – the studio, the painting, the museum – in the midst of a growing popular consumer culture. Fine art was a kind of a last straw that industrialized society could hold on to – to prove that it still held values other than vulgar economic ones.

At least seen in retrospect, the construction guaranteeing artistic self-sufficiency was rather a fragile one. What is left to us now of modernist art is first and foremost the names of the artists, in which art history and economy have amalgamated into a super image. Posters reproducing paintings used to simulate a painting. Today reproductions usually include the artist’s name – in a fairly large point size, the image advertising the name more than the name advertises the image.

Brand as transcendental experience

The age of the image economy has now turned into the age of the super image economy. The immediate visual appeal of products is no longer enough. Society has become saturated with images, and in order for an organization to be successful, the images it produces need to be managed – the logo, the reception-desk, the design, the advertising, the way phone calls are handled, the press, gossip – everything plays a part in the creation of a brand. In business, the concept of the brand is starting to resemble the classic notion of transcendence in art. The brands are becoming more venerated than the actual products. The sportswear company Nike has been very successful in achieving this. Their Swoosh logo is one of the most popular motifs for tattoos.

Brands and values

Actually, there is an interesting potential in this development. Customers are looking for something more than just attractive merchandise. Brands try to cater for that by coupling stories to their products, stories that have to be invented. Nike brand with sporty-ness, although most people use their clothes in the street. Benetton's development of its brand has been very sophisticated, but the presumed morals of its advertising is an add-on and has very little to do with their products, customers, or company policy. A brand could be even more powerful if it contained real stories and a real moral content. Today's importance of brands opens up for the re-introduction of other values in commerce.


The Cold War cold war seemed to offer a choice between a world led by the Soviet Union and a world led by the United States. To some neither option held any real attraction. The confusing simultaneous co-existence of two truths during the age of nuclear deterrent – communism and capitalism – generated another, mental space in which other realities could dwell.

"After the cold war there was no effort to reshape the world constructively," the writer John Le Carré stated in an interview with Le Monde in March 26, 2004. 'I believe there was a moment between 1989 and 1991, when, with a little imagination and courage, we could have done a lot – and I'm not being sentimental or romantic. But nobody showed the way. All that happened was that free trade was exported everywhere."

As the Soviet Empire ended in chaos, the 'free world's' captains of capitalism basked in the light of their victory. Whatever inhibitions the advocators of the free market had had, were now lost. It was a victory without restraint.


Improved communication should enable the world to establish communities across borders. New networks could do away with old suspicions. Ideas could be celebrated instead of flags. That would be a true global attitude. But globalisation has primarily come to mean the unconditional extension of a certain way of doing things. The American way. For a non-American it is easy to smile at the self-confidence of Americans. But how can we blame them for being over-confident? Since WW II the world has to a large degree voluntarily adopted the American way of doing business, its style of politics, its culture, and its language.

Language, identity, territory

National languages not only create the presumption of the importance of national identities by the preachers of Blut und Boden, but are also consciously manipulated by those in power in order to fortify and expand the influence of themselves and their nation. Like most other businesses, the power over broadcast media is being concentrated. As it primarily competes with speed, its critical faculties have diminished drastically, and even those with global coverage strive in a time of perceived conflict to serve national interests first. That enables politically fabricated rhetoric quickly to be turned into 'reality'. Expressions with no referent whatsoever can even become the cause of war.


The reactions to globalisation have been religious fundamentalism, nationalism, or just plain anti-globalisation. In Denmark there is the Danish People Party, which is a fairly typical example of a reaction. They are nationalistic and they are against immigration, especially of Muslim 'fundamentalists'. They declare that immigration threaten 'Christian' and 'Danish' 'values'. The Danish People Party gained popularity in the end of the 1990s under the last centre left government, primarily over the 'immigration issue'. Immigration to Denmark has been relatively small. The 'issue' has in fact never been an issue at all. But instead of attacking the blatant racism of the People Party, the social democrat prime minister receded and introduced stricter measures on immigration. He was afraid that it otherwise could become an election theme. The answer from the centre right opposition, in the Danish election campaign following in the heels of September 11, was even tougher rhetoric on immigration; and the social democrats lost the election. Denmark is now being ruled by a coalition of liberals and conservatives, depending on the People Party to form a majority in the parliament. The 'immigration issue' started as empty rhetoric, but became 'reality', and its consequences are fiercely felt by those concerned.

How does one work when politics have imploded?

At the time of the election, we were students at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts. On election night a few academy students and a guest professor from Thailand staged a protest outside the parliament. We were about fifteen people, most of us of non-Danish ethnic origin. Maybe we had expected angry Copenhagen citizens to show up, but apart from two-three others, we were alone. How does one continue to work after that? The choice seemed to be between hiding in our studio and choosing a path of direct action. Hiding in the studio did not seem to be a viable option, and direct action seemed to risk being a re-action, in the sense that our work would only be dictated by what we were against – we might risk being unable to transcend our political indignation.


A hypothetic cosmos

September 2003, we got the idea to make a sitcom TV-show in the artificial language Esperanto. Our original interest was to depict a claustrophobic state by producing a reality that only could exist on the screen – a world with no outside. It turned out that this project was not that easy to realize. Not only did we have to learn the language, we also had to imagine how things, meals and customs could be like in a hypothetic Esperanto world. At the same time, there seemed to be an interesting potential in this imaginary space with a language but not yet any things. We decided to make this the area of our work, and call it La Loko, which in Esperanto means 'the place'. La Loko is another place, which can help us to get a new perspective of reality.


Esperanto was launched in 1887 by the Polish oculist Ludwig Zamenhof, with an instruction booklet written in Russian. It was signed with the pseudonym Doctor Esperanto – the one who hopes. Today 2 million people around the globe speak Esperanto. There is a living original literature, and Esperanto has easily managed to accommodate translations of classic authors like Shakespeare and H C Andersen. There are more than 30.000 titles, and there are hundreds of periodicals. Several radio stations transmit in Esperanto every day. Some Esperantists fall in love with each other, and use the language on a daily basis. Nothing indicates that it should work less well than any other language. Conversely, Esperanto’s grammar and word formation system are flexible and contains a great potential for the expression of subtle nuances of meaning; while being systematic, transparent and straightforward to learn. Esperanto is easy to spell and easy to pronounce, each sound corresponds to one letter, and vice versa. Esperanto is practical solution to a real problem – how to communicate across borders.

The power over lingua franca

Since Esperanto is an international language, since it has been constructed to be easy to learn and since it is primarily used as a second language, the Esperantist is free from the terror of idioms. In the case of world languages like English and French, it does not matter how long a foreign language student study them. One always risks being corrected by a 'native speaker'. And the Anglo-Saxon or French native will of course always have the upper hand when meetings over borders are conducted in any of those languages. In international communication Esperanto is clearly a much more democratic alternative

The use of languages has always a political dimension, and it is impossible to neglect the fact that the spread around the globe of English – and previously French – is the result of empire building. The aggressive stance towards English amongst the French is of course connected to the spread of Anglo-Saxon culture at the expense of French.

The status of languages reflects the realities of international politics. When people around the world start speaking a certain language, they will also internalize that culture’s way of thinking. The reactions in (thoroughly Anglo Americanized) Scandinavia after the September 11 attacks in New York, was a very interesting example. Would there have been held as many minutes of silence, if the attacks had been made on Beijing, Delhi, or Moscow?

English as a Cold War weapon

1.5 billion people now speak English – the number has more than quadrupled in forty years. But English has not only spread by its on merits. According to an article in the Financial Times 28 September 2002, a confidential Cabinet report – Teaching English Overseas – was drawn up in Britain in 1956. It outlined an Anglo-American project to fight communistic propaganda. The British Council officer Roddy Cavaliero explains that in Britain, "some felt that this was imperialism under a new guise. We had lost political and economic control, but through language we could colonise the mind." American and British governments poured funds into setting up universities and language centres all over the developing world. Voice of America and BBC played an important part. Gerard Mansell, former head of BBC External services states that, "English came to be recognized as a political medium because of its message of culture and civilisation and democracy. The English language reflected those values in its vocabulary and way of expressing thoughts."

La Loko

We name La Loko in Esperanto because we want to situate it outside the notion of the nation state. La Loko is the name of our work.

Not in the least are we interested in how a site comes about – in the meeting between the material and the imaginary. La Loko is a polymorph, elastic, and mobile space. La Loko is international and interdisciplinary. It is a place for reflection as well as specific experiments in and between the fields of architecture, art, broadcasting, dance, design, economics, film, gastronomy, hospitality, marketing, music, politics, writing, and more. La Loko encompasses physical as well as mental space where we probe the relation between objects, language and economy, and where we at the same time conceive and produce prototypes for Esperanto objects.

What is a good object?

For many people in the West, today's global conflict is about having the right to a certain lifestyle. In a more or less post-religious society, personal fulfilment is intimately related to the acquisition of objects. Much business is thus concerned with conceiving and developing objects that please. The interest of profit is put first, and the long-term beneficiary aspects of these objects are often quite doubtful.

The design of Esperanto objects is a central part of our work at La Loko. The hypothesis of an Esperanto Cosmos is a starting point in an investigation of the grammar of the commodity. The development of new products is a part of the study of existing ones; the most exhaustive way to understand the nature of a certain kind of product is to create one. For the same reason La Loko exists in the market in order to analyze it as well as to distribute the products it develops.

La Loko's criteria for successful product development go beyond traditional economistic notions of capital. Inspired by Esperanto, La Loko tries to develop good objects. A good object works socially in all its stages – development, manufacture, distribution, use and post-use. In the good object, aesthetics, ethics, and economics cannot be separated from each other.

Olsson & Salomon

Dutch-Swedish Olof Olsson and Danish-French-Russian Daniel Salomon are artists based in Copenhagen. Since September 2003 they collaborate on La Loko.

La Loko’s point of departure is the language Esperanto, which is a constructed international language. Esperanto was devised by Dr Ludwig Zamenhof at the end of the 19th century. His idea was that a neutral auxiliary language would diminish inter-ethnical conflicts, and promote tolerance and friendship between cultures. Today Esperanto is a living language shared by a diverse community of people who communicate in spite of different mother tongues. The expansion of the internet has boosted the movement, offering a neutral ground and a powerful communication tool. The website features a presentation of the Esperanto movement in Thai.

Olsson and Salomon not only promote Esperanto with their project. They also use the language as a trigger for a study of objects, language and sites. By producing and marketing ‘Esperanto objects’ – within, for instance, fashion, furniture or gastronomy – they investigate the language of things, and their relation to an economical, political and social context.