Gallery Huuto, November 2018, Helsinki.
Aulis Harmaala’s exhibition features oil paintings and wooden sculptures. The works were inspired by Voltaire’s (1694-1778) novel Candide. Combining philosophy with fiction, the novel tells about the sincere Candide who is on the run around the world. Harmaala believes that the novel from the Age of Enlightenment resonates with today’s people. The main themes are very relevant: wealth gaps, religious and political power struggles, nationalism, colonialism and natural disasters.
Voltaire’s story criticizes the superficial optimism of the Enlightenment. Voltaire believed that people can get rid of superstitions through science. He supported liberal free trade and would be delighted to see Harmaala examining the world in a safe Nordic welfare state. It could be the El Dorado that is mentioned in the novel. However, today the welfare state is vigorously being run down in the name of neoliberalism. According to Harmaala, this activity represents modern-day superstition. In spite of having different perspectives, the paintings ask the same question as the novel: What kind of world is the best of all the possible worlds?
Harmaala tells about his nightmare in which mankind was divided into optimists and pessimists. The optimists were the nobility with faith in the market and they believed that the enslaved pessimists deserved to be exploited. The optimists explained that the exploitation finances technology that will eventually solve all problems of mankind. The optimists believed that the situation would be terrible if they were not in power. In the end, the unjust world drowned in a flood. Two survivors floated on a plastic raft. The following discussion is a quotation from the novel: “Oh Pangloss!” cried Candide. “This is one abomination you could not have anticipated, and I fear it has finally done for me: I am giving up on your Optimism after all.” — “What is Optimism?” asked Cacambo. — “Alas!” said Candide, “it is the mania for insisting that all is well when all is by no means well.”
According to Harmaala, it is a form of superficial optimism that it is possible for today’s politicians to become popular by expressing beliefs and opinions that make everything seem good and beautiful. Instead of saving democracy and discussing values, they offer a lack of alternatives and financial discipline. The discussion about values is replaced with scapegoat rhetoric. An objective person searching for the truth does not exist because everyone has their own goal to reach. Candide says that we must cultivate our garden. Harmaala asks which seeds we should sow in our garden.