Oil & water fuels Ocean Networks Canada artistic residency

Composer & percussionist Colin Malloy is the 2022 Ocean Networks Canada artist-in-residence 

Our world is saturated by oil. From fuel and plastic to climate change and the global economy, oil affects every aspect of human existence — right down to the microscopic level. And for 2022 Ocean Networks Canada artist-in-residence Colin Malloy, oil not only provided the inspiration for his residency, it’s also had a direct influence on the instrument he plays.

As well as being an interdisciplinary music technology PhD candidate with UVic’s School of Music & the Department of Computer Science, Malloy is an award-winning percussionist and composer who plays the Caribbean steelpan: also known as a steel drum, it’s an iconic instrument that wouldn’t exist without oil.

“After WWII, there were lots of leftover oil barrels from the US and British navies in Trinidad, so people adapted those into instruments: they cut up the barrels and, with a lot of hammering, made the modern steelpans out of them,” Malloy explains, noting that the majority of today’s steelpans are still made from 55-gallon barrels (“just ones that haven’t had oil in them”).

“Since it’s an oil-producing nation, the steelpan is a huge part of the country — it’s Trinidad’s national instrument, and they have hundreds of steel bands, most of which are sponsored by the oil industry. Because the steelpan has such an intrinsic connection to oil, I thought that was a natural lens through which to analyze how it affects the ocean.”

Working with oil & water

As the third ONC Artist-in-Residence — a continuing partnership with the Faculty of Fine Arts that has seen previous AIRs Dennis Gupa (Theatre) and Colton Hash (Visual Arts) selected for the program — Malloy frequently incorporates nature sounds into his practice as a composer, so it was a natural step for him to focus on data sonification during his residency.

“We’re all familiar with data visualizationwhere you take data and turn it into a visual image that can be interpreted,” he says. “Data sonification is when you take data and turn it into a musical aspect.”

Over the course of his four-month residency, Malloy met with ONC scientists and examined ocean data in order to create a series of new electroacoustic percussion compositions, which he’ll be performing live on January 26 under the title of Oil & Water.

“Given the steelpan’s history, I had a clear idea from the start of my proposal — I’m looking at how the effects of oil are inextricably linked to climate change,” he says.

Fusing his passion for percussion and audio programming, Malloy has composed four pieces inspired by ONC data sets. His piece titled “Oil & Water”, for example, uses software that probabilistically generates tones representing the data set for world oil production over the last 120 years.

“It starts out with a nice, meditative melody coming from the steelpan . . . but the sound gets louder and more aggressive and more intrusive until it eventually overpowers the performer,” he says. A synthesizer cycles the information into sound, with different data sets emerging as different musical timbres.

“It’s more an artistic choice reinforcing the connection between the music and the scientific ideas,” Malloy explains. “By using data to drive the music, it will hopefully lead audiences to reflect on how our own daily use of oil affects the ocean. People’s minds and feelings are changed through stories and emotions, not through data, but I do want everything I do to be informed by actual data — it’s important for my music to reflect truth and accuracy, to have integrity.”

As part of his residency, Malloy was also one of four Fine Arts faculty members who participated in the Creative Futures webinar “Documenting the Climate Crisis” (which you can watch via this YouTube link).

Sounds of science

During his residency, Malloy says ONC researchers exposed him to “a lot of information that was just on the edge of my awareness” — like the problematic Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the swirling plastic trash vortex which scientists estimate covers a staggering 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific (an area twice the size of Texas or three times that of France).

“I learned that it’s basically a collection of all kinds of plastic in the ocean, which is so insidious because it’s effectively forever: plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it just breaks down into smaller pieces until it’s microscopic — so the patch is effectively a thick, giant plastic floating slurry that light can’t penetrate, that traps heat and contributes to ocean warming, that harms the fish and wildlife and the overall ecosystem . . . none of which I envisioned.”

This inspired another composition titled “Trash Vortex”, for which Malloy created his own interactive software.

“Recordings of all my previous rehearsals and performances are being constantly played back by the computer while being broken into smaller and smaller pieces, which I’ll be playing overtop of,” he explains. “It’s like the ‘trash’ of my previous work has become a metaphorical framework for an improvisation . . . the score is essentially the software, which changes every time, so what I play in response will be a different experience each time.”

A third piece is titled “Hot, Sour and Breathless”, which offers a musical interpretation of the projected future of the oceans as a result of climate change: “hot” representing warming temperatures, “sour” being the changing pH levels as the waters become more acidic, and “breathless” standing in for the deoxygenation of the oceans — all concerns Malloy learned about during his residency.

An emotional connection

With plans to record his ONC compositions later this spring, Malloy also hopes to return to some of the ideas he didn’t have time to explore. “The variety of sounds whales make are incredible,” he says by way of example. “I really wanted to find a way to mimic them: percussionists like finding weird, interesting ways of making new sounds!”

Ultimately, he hopes listeners will find a more personal connection between the sounds and the science.

“With music, people come to a concert prepared to have an intellectual or emotional reaction: you’re not necessarily going to understand the data better by hearing these pieces, but it might affect you differently than hearing something on the news,” he says.

“I’ve learned a lot through this process and I’m hoping to share that with the audience. It’s been a real educational experience for me.”

The application period for the fourth Fine Arts / ONC Artist-in-Residence is now closed: watch for the announcement of the selected artist this spring.

The Artist-in-Residence program is a partnership between UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada, with additional financial support provided by the Faculty of Science and the University of VIctoria’s Office of Research Services. This continuing program strengthens connections between art and science that broaden and cross-fertilize perspectives and critical discourse on today’s major issues, such as environment, technology, oceans, cultural and biodiversity, and healthy communities. This program is open to all current University of Victoria graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements in the Faculty of Fine Arts with practice in any visual, written, musical or performance media.

Colin Malloy’s “Reflection in Waves”, written for Radio Amnion, a multi-year sound art project for the waters of Earth, commissioning new compositions by contemporary artists: these are then relayed more than two kilometres deep within the Pacific Ocean during each full moon. 

The freelance life of Jenessa Joy Klukas

Given the 24-hour global news cycle, we’re living in a time of rapid media consumption, but freelance writer Jenessa Joy Klukas is finding success by keeping her focus tight and building relationships one story at a time.

A recent Department of Writing graduate, Klukas, BFA ’21, finished the final year of her degree by interning at independent media outlet The Tyee as part of the Indigenous Reporters Program with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), followed by a short posting at the equally independent IndigiNews as an education and child-welfare reporter.

Now freelancing for a variety of outlets—including expanding her work with The Tyee and IndigiNews, but also publishing with the likes of the Watershed Sentinel—Klukas has had no trouble keeping busy. “It’s been very steady since I graduated last year, but I’m enjoying the freedom that comes with freelancing: it allows me to take on stories I’m really passionate about,” she says.

Developing a beat

Of Xaxli’p and Métis descent, Klukas grew up on the land of the Haisla Nation in Kitimat before moving to Victoria and transferring from nearby Camosun College into UVic’s Writing department, where she focused on creative nonfiction. She’s managed to develop her own beat by focusing on stories about child welfare, education and Indigenous issues, and has also maintained ties with JHR through their Indigenous Media Collaborative.

“Because of these connections, stories are finding me a lot faster than I was anticipating—specifically in terms of Indigenous stories,” she says. “I find I get a lot of outreach on those.” Case in point? Her recent Watershed Sentinel story about Tea Creek Farm—an Indigenous-led, culturally-safe, land-based Indigenous food sovereignty and trades-training initiative located near Gitwangak in Gitxsan Territory (near Hazelton). The group reached out to her for coverage.

“Agriculture isn’t something I’ve really written about before, but because it was specifically Indigenous agriculture in a specific location—northern BC, near where I grew up—they felt I was the right person to contact,” she explains.


Another similar story focused on cultivating kelp resurgence in W̱SÁNEĆ waters via a partnership between the SȾÁUTW̱ (Tsawout) First Nation and the Cascadia Seaweed commercial farm. And Klukas is currently researching a story about how asthma is affected by climate change, specifically looking at the impact of wildfires. “With our changing climate, we’re seeing a real uptake in wildfires and it’s having a significant impact on people’s health,” she notes. “I’ll be taking a deeper look at how ceremonial burning can have a positive effect on wildfires.”

Klukas is grateful for the support of JHR’s Indigenous Media Collaborative to develop stories like these. “It’s a funded initiative that allows journalists to take the time to invest in stories,” she says. IMC’s reporters are focused on solutions-based journalism and can pitch any media outlet as they develop their concepts into whatever shape best suits the story, be that a one-shot, longform or a series. “Since it’s funded, they help guide you through the process of getting your stories out into the world.”

Stories that matter

Given the societal changes that coincided with her degree studies—including reconciliation, COVID, the rise of recent social-justice movements and the continuing climate crisis—Klukas feels the time is right for her to tell stories that matter.

“I came into journalism at a good time to have my voice heard. In Canada, we’re at a point in history where people are more accepting about creating space for Indigenous voices—which, in the past, didn’t happen very often.”

—UVic writing grad and journalist Jenessa Joy Klukas

Klukas pauses and offers a wry laugh. “Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone is always receptive to it.”

This deepening of voices is indicative of a cultural shift that she’s proud to be part of. “I would have really valued seeing Indigenous voices in journalism when I was a teenager—that representation would have meant a lot to me—so I’m totally willing and available to write stories on Indigenous matters,” she says. “It’s incredibly valuable to have Indigenous voices in the media space, not only for the average person to hear but also for Indigenous youth.”

But Klukas does admit that there’s a fine line between representation and tokenism in mainstream media. “Indigenous people shouldn’t be delegated to write only Indigenous stories if it’s part of a beat they’re not wanting to take on. As with any journalist, I always consider if this is the right story for me—I mean, I’m happy to cover Indigenous stories, but it’s important to have boundaries.”

Boundaries are especially important for her when writing about sensitive issues, like Indigenous child welfare. “It’s a passionate topic for me, so I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about it—but it can be difficult to not feel overwhelmed,” she says. “There’s a heaviness that comes with it that can be emotionally draining. But that’s one of my favourite things about freelancing, spacing those stories out with a variety of topics: it helps me take care of my mental health.”

Another way Klukas keeps herself in balance is by having at least one creative project on the go, whether that’s “dabbling” in fiction via short stories or screenplays. “It’s important to have something for myself, just to keep flexing my creative muscles.”

While she’s still relatively new to the world of freelancing, Klukas feels she’s found her niche. “It takes a lot of initiative to be a freelancer, and it’s a constant process of learning something every day. That’s something the Writing program taught me: it’s important to pitch everywhere, send those emails in and just follow up. It can be scary—some days I feel very confident, while other days I have total impostor syndrome—but that’s very normal… writing is a very secluded endeavour, so it’s easy to fall into the ‘why am I doing this?’ mindset.”

Klukas finds success by giving her attention to one story at a time.

“I’m very proud of the work I do, and I’m really happy with the trajectory my career is taking, but I try to keep the focus on each story,” she says. “In journalism, sometimes you write for quota, sometimes you write for money… there are always going to be pieces you’ll like more than others, but I feel most successful when there’s a story I’m really proud of: building relationships is one of my favourite parts of journalism.”

This story originally appeared in the fall 2022 issue of UVic’s Torch alumni magazine

Orion Series presents Kade L. Twist

The Orion
Lecture Series in Fine Arts

Through the generous support of the Orion Fund in Fine Arts, the Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, is pleased to present:

Kade L. Twist

Visiting interdisciplinary artist 

7:30pm (PST) Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Room A162, Visual Arts building + streaming online

 Free & open to the public

Click here for the Zoom session 


Presented by UVic’s Department of Visual Arts

For more information on this lecture please email: visualarts@uvic.ca

Our first Orion Visiting Artist of 2023 is award-winning interdisciplinary artist Kade L. Twist: citizen of the Cherokee Nation, professor at LA’s Otis College of Art & Design and co-founder of the interdisciplinary Postcommodity artist collective. Working with video, sound, interactive media, text and installation environments, Twist’s art examines the unresolved tensions between market-driven systems, consumerism and American Indian cultural self-determination. 

Join us for this free talk at 7:30pm Wed Jan 11 in the Visual Arts building room A162. You can also watch the talk live via Zoom.

About Kade Twist

A US Artist Klein Fellow for Visual Arts (2015) and recipient of the Native Writers Circle First Book Award, Kade Twist has exhibited work nationally and internationally both individually and as part of Postcommodity.

Postcommodity’s work has been included in the Sydney Biennale, Whitney Biennial, Carnegie International and documenta 14, as well as numerous solo exhibitions including the Art Institute of Chicago Museum, San Francisco Art Institute, LAXArt, Scottsdale Museum of Art, Remai Modern Museum and their historic land art installation Repellent Fence at the US/Mexico border in Arizona/Sonora.

Image to the right: Postcommodity’s 2020 installation, “Let Us Pray For the Water Between Us” (Minneapolis Institue of Art, courtesy of Postcommodity & Bokley Gallery). 


About the Orion Fund

Established through the generous gift of an anonymous donor, the Orion Fund in Fine Arts is designed to bring distinguished visitors from other parts of Canada—and the world—to the University of Victoria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, and to make their talents and achievements available to faculty, students, staff and the wider Greater Victoria community who might otherwise not be able to experience their work.

The Orion Fund also exists to encourage institutions outside Canada to invite regular faculty members from our Faculty of Fine Arts to be visiting  artists/scholars at their institutions; and to make it possible for Fine Arts faculty members to travel outside Canada to participate in the academic life of foreign institutions and establish connections and relationships with them in order to encourage and foster future exchanges.

Free and open to the public  |  Seating is limited (500 Zoom connections) |  Visit our online events calendar at www.events.uvic.ca

Fine Arts makes 2022 UVic News top 10 list — twice!

Fine Arts was excited to see the continuing research and creative activity of our faculty members make it into two separate “UVic Top 10 of 2022” lists! 

Compiled by UVic News out of the many stories released across campus throughout the year, we congratulate the efforts of professors Carey Newman and Kirstsen Sadeghi-Yekta for their outstanding work!

Photo: Jessica Sigurdson / Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Witness Blanket redux

Fine Arts professor Carey Newman — UVic’s Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices — made the University of Victoria’s “Top 10 Newsmakers” list for 2022 for the new interactive website for the Witness Blanket. A large-scale art installation which stands as a national monument recognizing the atrocities of the residential school era, the Witness Blanket was created by Newman and is permanently housed at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. News about the latest thread on Newman and his collaborative project was picked up by such outlets as Global TVCTV News, Capital Daily and Saanich News.

Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta (right) with participants tsatassaya|Tracey White & suy’thlumaat|Kendra-Anne Page (One Island Media)

Language reawakening through applied theatre

The continuing efforts of Theatre professor Kirsten Sadeghi-Yekta to facilitate Indigenous language reclamation via applied theatre techniques made UVic’s “Top 10 Partnerships of the Year” list.

In collaboration with the Hul’q’umi’num’ Language and Culture Society, Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy and other university partners, the Phoenix Theatre’s Indigenous Theatre Festival in September 2022 brought people together for performances, discussions and workshops, using theatre as a tool for language reclamation.

Visual Arts minor now Rhodes scholar

We also salute 2022 graduate Julie Levy, who made the “Top 10 Newsmakers” list for being named the first trans woman to earn a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.  

One of 11 young Canadians—and the only one from BC—to be named Rhodes scholars, Levy is a Chemistry major and Visual Arts minor who will begin a fully-funded, two-year master’s degree at England’s Oxford University in fall 2023.  The Vancouver Sun published a Canadian Press story, which was picked up by 158 other outlets, while CBC News ran its own feature story.

Dean’s Lecture: Virginia Acuña

Deans’ Lecture Series

Research is continually reshaping the way we live and think. In this continuing series of online talks hosted by UVic’s Division of Continuing Studies, you’ll hear from distinguished faculty members and learn about their research interests.

Virginia Acuña on “Amusing the King”

In her talk “Amusing the King: Gender, Parody and Musical Theatre in Early 18th Century Spain”, School of Music teaching professor Virginia Acuña explores the world of Spanish baroque musical theatre through the lens of Acis y Galatea (Acis and Galatea), an operatic work performed for King Philip V of Spain in 1708.

“What makes this work interesting and worthy of attention is that it reverses gender roles of the era, while also satirizing the archetype of the male lover so commonly found in dramatic works of the period,” she explains. “Also, as we shall see, it mocks operatic conventions of the baroque. Why and how does it do so? Please join me to find out!”

You can watch this video here.

Dr. Acuña’s research interests include early music, opera, and Spanish music and culture of the early modern era, specifically the intersection of gender, politics and race in baroque musical theatre. Her research appears in Eighteenth-Century Music, Early Music, the Bulletin of the Comediantes, and in conference proceedings. She is also co-author of Claudio Monteverdi: A Research and Information Guide (Routledge, 2018).

More in the series

Other recent talks in the ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series include Art History & Visual Studies professor Melia Belli Bose, School of Music professors Merrie Klazek and Joseph Salem, and Visual Arts professor Daniel Laskarin.