Stasis aims to be a meaningful examination of the circumstances faced by refugees and asylum seeker youths in Australia. By shedding light on the realities of displacement and prolonged detention endured by vulnerable individuals and their communities, Lambert endeavours to create empathetic experiences from disintegrated interview material. Through a series of data portraits and immersive presentation, the artist encourages viewers to contemplate the human condition through technology.
This project was created in collaboration with STARTTS and supported by Amnesty International and Australia for UNHCR.
Stasis was made possible through the support of Create NSW and the Australia Council for the Arts.
In collaboration with STARTTS
Many STARTTS clients have a strong desire to share their stories and have their stories heard. Unfortunately, all trauma, but especially interpersonal trauma, has the outcome of silence, silencing victims, silencing survivors, silencing their families, their communities and entire nations (reference Judith Herman 1998). These traumatic events are often too painful to articulate, let alone allow into conscious thought. Who benefits from this silencing? Only the perpetrators and those who benefit from their control or power. Unfortunately, survivors are caught up in a disabling tension; they continue to experience unwanted reminders, triggers and nightmares of the very memories they are so desperate to escape. These experiences are even more prevalent for people from a refugee background who have experienced torture and organised collective violence in the effort of perpetrators to destroy their selves and their communities.
As a result, psychological interventions that focus on the constructing and reclaiming of the personal narrative have been found to be effective in promoting the recovery of people from a refugee background in several contexts. This process of narration in a safe and supportive environment is particularly powerful. For example, Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET; Schauer, Neuner & Elbert, 2011) has been shown as an effective treatment option for children, young people and adults from a refugee background across several contexts (Hijazi et al., 2014; Lely et al., 2019; Ruf, Schauer, Neuner, Catani, Schauer & Elbert, 2010).
The novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy involves a powerful scene of this process as the protagonist Pierre narrates the traumatic, violent scenes he witnessed during the French-Russian war to his friends and describes the intense but cathartic impact this has. In the case of NET, it has been found that the aspect of being witnessed and the opportunity for ones story to be used in a capacity of advocacy or legal testimony has compounding benefits for survivors, who feel empowered to stand up for themselves and their community and see justice brought against the perpetrators.
As beneficial as the processes of narration, witnessing, and subsequent advocacy are, they are not accessible to all people from a refugee background. In many communities, there is pressure for survivors to remain silent and not share their stories. The first reason is that most survivors have family or community members who remain in danger either in the country of origin or a transit country. In these cases the danger posed by sharing their story publicly is simply untenable, and despite a strong desire for the World to know and to witness the suffering of their community, it is not safe to share. In other communities, there is deep hurt and shame that vulnerable community members cannot be protected. This is common in cases where perpetrators used sexual violence as a weapon of war and genocide. Even if some community members want to share this story, the perceived shame it would bring to their parents, guardians, and community is unbearable for them and results in their continued silencing.
Stasis, through its artistic processes of creating an abstracted digital image from the interview, allows the participants to share their stories on a significant platform whilst retaining the option of anonymity. They can benefit personally from the process of narration and witnessing, breaking the silence of the trauma whilst also protecting their family and community from danger. It is not the opinion of STARTTS that every survivor of torture and refugee trauma would feel ready to participate in Stasis. However, some likely individuals would benefit from sharing their stories anonymously in this unique art form. Participants may wish to identify themselves, which should also be supported.
STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors)
10 Universal Stories - Filmed in 2022, this 8-minute edit offers a compelling glimpse into the stories shared by the participants of Stasis.
Essay: Signal to Noise
Now, more than ever, we are the data that represents us. By employing a form of digital data portraiture as a means to examine the psychological state of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, Lambert’s work provides a powerful commentary on the evolving relationship between human beings and technology, as well as the broader social and national implications of data collection and its weaponisation.
The Stasis exhibition serves as a poignant reminder that, despite the growing tendency to reduce personal identifiers to mere data points, the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees remain resoundingly human. Lambert’s work conveys these individuals’ emotional and psychological complexities by transforming these “disintegrated” point-cloud interview materials into empathetic visual experiences. Through this process, Stasis challenges viewers to recognise the humanity behind the numbers and statistics – points often dominating discussions of global migration and immigration.
As the digital world continues to permeate every aspect of modern life, the need and desire for data anonymity have become increasingly important. This anonymity can offer some asylum seekers and refugees a lifeline, enabling them to share their stories and connect with others without fear of persecution or retaliation. However, this anonymity can also contribute to erasing their individuality, as their narratives become subsumed by the collective digital noise. Lambert’s work grapples with this tension, highlighting this delicate balance between preserving personal privacy and ensuring that the voices of the most vulnerable are not lost. The signal in the noise is a person.
Abstracted data, given form and volume, provides the perfect medium for Lambert to explore these themes. It anonymises the subject to the human viewer while emphasising the emotional and psychological aspects of human experience. Using binary colours, generating texture, and pattern, Lambert’s data portraits convey his subjects’ complex stories and emotional states while engaging with the broader issues of data fetishisation and the rise of global surveillance technologies. Merging the personal and the political, pushed through the lens of the game engine processing - Lambert’s work encourages viewers to question how technology shapes our understanding of the human condition and our value on the individual.
In the modern era, increasingly defined by the ubiquity of surveillance.
Stasis offers a timely reflection on the implications of this phenomenon for individuals and societies alike. By personal interviews and recontextualising these experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, Lambert’s work invites viewers to consider how the growing pervasiveness of data collection, anonymisation, and migration impacts the most vulnerable among us, as well as the extent to which we, as a society, have become complicit in this invasive gaze.
Lambert’s Stasis offers a powerful and thought-provoking exploration of the intersections between technology, data, and intimate portraiture in the context of global migration and immigration. By highlighting the complex interplay between human beings as data points, our desire for data anonymity, and the rise of global surveillance technologies, Lambert’s abstracted works challenge viewers to reflect on the social implications of data fetishisation and how technology connects and isolates us.
Stasis serves as a timely reminder that, despite the growing reliance on digital communication and surveillance, the human experiences of asylum seekers and refugees remain profoundly personal and deserving of our empathy and understanding.
Curator and Futurist
Verge Gallery May 4th, 1 - 2 pm
Open Circle is an event that will bring together the participants and supporters of the Stasis art exhibition to form a sense of resolution to the artistic process. The event will feature musical and poetry performances from individuals associated with the project.
The event is a chance to reflect on the creative process and better understand the project’s intention and underlying themes. Through this event, we will strive to create an inclusive and supportive environment for all participants and the broader community. Join us at Verge Gallery for an afternoon of thought-provoking performances and meaningful discourse.
Art & Technology Talk,
Incubator Space, Sydney University
May 11, 1 - 2 pm
Travis Rice (UNSW), Ben Denham (NAS), and Kenneth Lambert in Synthetic Discord, a critical examination of the ethical and philosophical implications of technological advances on contemporary art practices. Rice, a curator and AI enthusiast will bring insight into how artificial intelligence can shape the artist-audience relationship. Denham, a lecturer at the National Art School and artist, will challenge the legitimacy of AI as a contemporary art practice.
Lambert, an experimental media artist, will moderate the discussion and use his practice to investigate the human condition through the lens of technology as a reference point. *This event took place with Lambert’s exhibition ‘Stasis’, on view at Verge Gallery from April 17- May 12, 2023.
Publicity & Features
Verge Gallery (USU) hosted Agnès Callamard, the esteemed French human-rights activist and Secretary General of Amnesty International, at the thought-provoking Stasis exhibition. Covered by SBS News, Agnès Callamard raised the specific issue that has received significant attention: Australia's approach to offshore detention centres, such as those on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. Critics argue that the conditions in these centres and the prolonged detention of individuals seeking asylum raise concerns about potential violations of the rights and protections guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions.
Transitions - Issue #37
Artist and Stasis exhibition has been profiled in the bi-annual publication Refugee Transitions - Issue 37 by STARTTS. This publication elegantly presents the exhibition and its compelling artworks. You can downloadable PDF copy of Issue #37 with the provided link.
Take action against cruel policies that harm refugees and asylum seekers. Write to your government representative and demand that these practices stop! Support organisations that finally assist refugees and asylum seekers, empathise, listen and support.
Stasis was made possible through the support of Create NSW, the Australia Council for the Arts and Ink Lab.