As the subject of modern art came up recently, I dredged this article from the archives for your interest. It was written in Edinburgh, Scotland after I visited the Scottish Parliament building and had some fairly… strong… opinions about it.

July 28th, 2006, 11:32pm


I visited the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh today for the first time, in a building opened in 2004 and described as “the most modern legislature in the world.” On a tour of the building, it became apparent to me that it was “modern” alright: a pertinent symbol of contemporary government abuse and disgrace.

When Catalan architect Eric Miralles stood to give his vision for the building of the new Scottish Parliament, he laid a tree branch on the table and said that that was his vision. The building was to spring beautifully “from the earth” around it, with “long fingers” extending into the parkland beyond. Everybody seemed to love the idea, although the project was plagued by controversy from the beginning, for various reasons.

Scottish Parliament buildingAs I surveyed the building, I realised that it was anything but natural and beautiful. It takes a postmodern approach, being composed of ugly, irregular shapes and random symbols in ghastly formations. On approach, there is no aesthetic connection with the natural landscape of Arthur’s Seat beyond – it is a heinous blemish in that terrain. It lacks elegance, and because it tries so hard to be something that it is not, it lacks any sense of pride in human accomplishment. It tries so hard to be everything that it ends up being nothing. It tries so fervently to avoid being a modern celebration of human achievement that it ends up becoming a hideous emblem of human mediocrity. It is as though Miralles was embarrassed of humanity, ashamed to build something that stood, as New York’s World Trade Center did, a monument to human excellence, pride and performance.

World Trade CenterContrast the architecture of the two buildings: the Scottish Parliament’s nervous unascertainability and the Twin Towers’ confident, magnificent statement. The one which cries in desparation, ‘Who are we? What do we stand for?’, the other which declared in a booming voice across the free world, ‘I Am The Shit! We get shit done around here.’ No wonder it was the target of choice for those who hate western progress.

I was told that I must use my imagination as I looked around the building to give it meaning; its diagonal lines and boat-modelled skylights and bent poles and useless beams and indistinguishable, cookie-cutter shapes stamped everywhere. My “imagination.” What does my imagination have to do with it? Surely Miralles meant to create… something, anything, in particular? Surely there was some kind of message to his art? Anytime I want to, I could go and stare at a wall and use my imagination to come up with any number of bizarre interpretations, but it would be as interesting as, well, looking at the wall.

I passed by a piece of modern art yesterday near the affluent Regent Terrace in Edinburgh which consisted of 40 empty plastic bottles from various bleaching products hanging from a ceiling. Draw your own conclusions, they say. My conclusion is that it’s bullshit. The Scottish Parliament gave me the same vibe: the scent of bullshit, the sense that there really isn’t a message worth sharing, the sense of unearned, fake profundity.

I did make my own conclusions. I concluded that the creators of this mangled monstrosity didn’t really know what they wanted to say. The plethora of cretinous voices ended up making the whole blasted thing complex and odd and obnoxious and impossible to like. Interestingly, the way in which the Scottish Parliament is ordered as a legislature is not much different: unlike Westminster, it uses the additional member system – a form of proportional representation – to ensure that there are more voices in the political process than the people actually wanted (voices like the Scottish Green Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, and the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party. Whoopee).

This centrist soup results in some stellar decision-making: one of the latest pieces of legislation to be passed by the Scottish Parliament was the smoking ban which recently came into effect, a law which purports to stop smoking in public places but which in reality tells private business owners what they can or cannot do on their own wretched property (don’t get me started). A bloody horrible law, about which my fellow blogger Stephen Graham wrote last year in a definitive article at Grumpy Young Man.

In fact, it’s like everything about the Scottish Parliament: politically correct, socially timid, culturally paranoid garbage. Like the rest of UK lawmaking, the silly pandering to liberty-crushing lobbyists, the facade of a ‘modern social democracy’ and the absolute inability of those in power to believe something in principle and say so are frustrating at best.

The fact that, in “the most modern legislature in the world”, signs are written in both English and in Gaelic, a language spoken by dead leprechauns, should tell us everything we need to know about the debacle of pursuing the appeasing of everyone so thoroughly that you end up representing no-one.

Lest anyone feel this critique unfair, someone perhaps who understands the architecture and the Gaelic, let me close by saying that the most scandalous aspect of the building is not its style nor what it purports to represent; rather it is the fact that this monstrosity cost a full 400 percent more than the estimates, at a whopping £415 MILLION. Still, for that price the construction was as sound as the ideology behind it: not long after opening, while members of parliament were debating another measure intended to micromanage the lives of the Scottish who were too drunk to notice, a beam which was supposed to be holding up the roof of this ‘beautiful’ building broke loose and swung dramatically over the heads of the politicians below. Nobody was hurt, unfortunately, and they fixed it and continued to revel in postmodernist collectivism.

What a fitting metaphor.