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. 

Call for grad student proposals: Ocean Networks Canada Artist-in-Residence Program

2021 ONC Artist in Residence Dennis Gupa

UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) are calling for graduate student applications for the 2023 ONC Artist-in-Residence program.

Note: the application period closes on December 17, 2022.

The Artist-in-Residence 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 Fine Arts graduate students who have completed most of their course requirements with practice in any visual, written, musical or performance media. Co-led and sponsored by Fine Arts and ONC, the Artist-in-Residence program receives additional financial support from UVic’s Faculty of Science and Office of Research Services.

About the residency

The Artist-in-Residence will ignite cross-disciplinary exchanges, interacting with Fine Arts faculty members and scientists & staff at ONC, as well as with other individuals using ONC’s world-leading ocean facilities. The Artist will learn from and engage with the current research, connecting it to the Artist’s own practice, and to wider societal and cultural aspects, creating work for public presentation at the end of the residency. The Artist will also be invited to contribute as a lead or co-author in scientific conference proceedings and/or journal articles.

The selected Artist will actively engage with researchers on a variety of ocean science themes that may include:

  1. Deep Sea Ecology
  2. Seabed-Ocean Exchanges
  3. Coastal Ocean Processes
  4. Marine Natural Hazards
  5. The Ocean Soundscape
  6. Arctic Ocean Observing
  7. Ocean Big Data

The ONC Artist-in-Residence program is established to:

  1. explore the potential of the arts or alternative cultural practices in the area of the visions, challenges, philosophical, aesthetic, and ethical aspects of the ocean and the impacts humans have on it;
  2. add a complementary artistic and creative perspective to ocean science, the societal ramifications of its exploitation, and its cultural aspects;
  3. create opportunities for potential new research questions, experimental approaches and knowledge synthesis resulting from interaction between the arts and science; and
  4. help envision and communicate the potential long-term impact of ocean changes on humanity.

Learn more about previous Artists in Residence

Previous ONC Artists in Residence include Colton Hash (Visual Arts, 2019), Dennis Gupa (Theatre, 2021) and Colin Malloy (School of Music, 2022). Watch for a special performance event in late January 2023, when Colin will be debuting his project created as part of the residency.

But you can get a sneak peek of Colin’s work by listening to these two compositions which he created during his time with ONC:

2022 ONC Artist-in-Residence Colin Malloy

Financial provision for the Artist

The residency period can start anytime between 1 Feb 2023 and 31 May 2023 and last for up to four months. A cost-of-living stipend of CAD$2000/month will be paid to the selected Artist, with limited additional funds to support production or materials.

At the conclusion of the residency, a public exhibit of the resulting art will be displayed or performed, and will be promoted by ONC and the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Proposal Submission

Interested applicants are to email ONC at dwowens@oceannetworks.ca with the subject line “Ocean Artist-in-Residence Program,” and attach:

  1. the artist’s CV
  2. a concise portfolio of previous relevant artistic work;
  3. a letter of motivation outlining the artist’s project proposal for the residency, and
  4. a 500-word project proposal with a separate project-costs budget.

The application period closes on 17 December 2022. Applications will be reviewed by representatives of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada. Artists may be contacted for an interview or to supply further information before a decision is made.

Public Exhibit or Event

At the conclusion of the residency, the artist will host a public exhibit or event within a specified budget agreed to during the residency and depending on the type of project to be exhibited. Assistance for marketing and/or ticketing could be made available from other UVic departments (Visual Arts, Theatre, etc.).

About Ocean Networks Canada

Established in 2007 as a strategic initiative of the University of Victoria, ONC operates world-leading ocean observatories for the advancement of science and the benefit of Canada. The observatories collect data on physical, chemical, biological, and geological aspects of the ocean over long time periods, supporting research on complex Earth processes in ways not previously possible. The observatories provide unique scientific and technical capabilities that permit researchers to operate instruments remotely and receive data at their home laboratories anywhere on the globe, in real time. The facilities extend and complement other research platforms and programs, whether currently operating or planned for future deployment.

About the Faculty of Fine Arts

With experiential learning at its core, the Faculty of Fine Arts provides the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals, and students. Through its departments of Art History and Visual Studies, Theatre, Visual Arts, Writing and School of Music, the Faculty of Fine Arts aspires to lead in arts-based research and creative activity and education in local, national, and global contexts by integrating and advancing creation and scholarship in the arts in a dynamic learning environment.

As British Columbia’s only Faculty exclusively dedicated to the arts, UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is an extraordinary platform that supports new discoveries, interdisciplinary and diverse contributions to creativity, and the cultural experiences of the students and communities UVic serves. With thanks also to the Vice President Research & Innovation and Faculty of Science for their support.

Faculty Equity Survey


UVic’s Faculty of Fine Arts is conducting an Equity Review in preparation for Strategic Planning. We want to hear from members of the Fine Arts community to understand what we are doing well and what else we need to do to become a place where everyone is welcomed, included and respected for who they are.

This anonymous, 10-minute survey runs from Oct 3-17, 2022, and you can take it here.

We welcome the participation of all members of the Faculty of Fine Arts: faculty, staff, instructors, and current students. The survey asks about your experiences with oppression, discrimination, harassment, Indigenization, Indigenous inclusion and decolonization in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and covers all of our units: Art History & Visual Studies, School of Music, Theatre, Visual Arts and Writing. We also are eager to hear your suggestions for making the Faculty a more inclusive space for all.

Full details about the survey—including how the data will be used, who will see the results, how your privacy is protected & the project timeline—can be found here on the Fine Arts website.

Thank you for your involvement in this important process. As a Faculty, we are looking forward to hearing a full range of views from the diverse members of our community. Your time and openness will help us build a more inclusive community for all.

New exhibit looks at relationships in the Visual Arts department

Alum & instructor Danielle Proteau with her piece in the exhibit (photo: Tori Jones)

Walk onto any pier and you’ll find yourself supported over a fluid environment. Work alongside a peer in visual arts and you’ll find yourself similarly supported in a creative environment. Such is the central metaphor behind Piers, the new Department of Visual Arts faculty exhibit running until December 22 at UVic’s downtown Legacy Gallery

A group exhibition by 18 artists spanning generations, nationalities and backgrounds, Piers showcases contemporary artwork ranging across media that explores how artists’ practices change through teaching, learning and mentorship. But it also explores how the practices of artists working within the visual arts department extends beyond campus in relation to teaching and learning.

“Artists who work in the visual arts department—whether as faculty, sessional instructors or staff—were invited to place their practice in dialogue with that of a past student or mentor,” explains exhibit curator Kim Dhillon, a former instructor in the department. “Nine artists selected an artist to show alongside, someone whose work influenced their own through the course of teaching and learning.”

The exhibit features contemporary painting, sculpture, video and photography by visual arts professors Cedric Bomford, Megan Dickie, Laura Dutton, Daniel Laskarin, Jennifer Stillwell, Beth Stuart and Paul Walde; instructor Danielle Proteau, staff member Hollis Roberts, and alumni Katie Bethune-LeamenChristopher LindsayEvan Locke and Lauren Brinson. Other participating artists include Yan Wen Chang, Annika Eriksson, James Legaspi, Arlene Stamp and Grace Tsurumaru.

The selection was left up to the individual: professors Paul Walde and Cedric Bomford, for example, chose to showcase their own former teachers (Arlene Stamp and Annika Erikson), while professors Megan Dickie and Daniel Laskarin are paired with alumni who now work for the department: facility & production manager Hollis Roberts and sessional instructor Danielle Proteau, respectively.

In Piers, a dialogue occurs between the artworks by Laskarin and Proteau to connect ideas about art as “ghosts”—something that is both there and not there—as well as the process of removal as a way of discovering. As Proteau notes, while there is a material connection in their practices—both work in sculpture and photography—there is also a philosophical similarity in how they explore presence and absence through a process of reconstruction. “Both of our practices crack open ways of knowing, broadly speaking,” she says.

Of Proteau’s practice, Laskarin says, “I feel a shared affinity for what is not quite there, that is just out of sight or beyond the grasp of accountability—that which exceeds us.”

Dickie was nominated for this exhibition by Roberts, her former student. Both have created tactile pieces and both share a sense of loss with the work they’ve chosen to display.

“The two sculptures we submitted deal with the intimacy of relationships, with both people and materials,” explains Dickie. “Both Hollis and I produced these works as a way to work through our grief: Hollis created her weaving while her Dad was sick and I created my button sculpture soon after my partner passed away. I can’t speak for Hollis, but I feel like both of us needed the repetitive work as a purpose to keep going, keep moving and feel like there was something in our control.”

Roberts agrees. “I found that the repetition of weaving was a way to make the chaos I was experiencing surrounding my dad’s illness tangible,” she says. “It was cathartic, rhythmic and it made space for my thoughts to ruminate both before and after my dad’s passing.”

It’s also no coincidence that the genesis for Piers came out of the COVID era, when campuses and shared spaces like studios and classrooms were temporarily closed. As curator Dhillon notes, while some benefits arose from the shift to online learning—specifically in the areas of accessibility and flexibility—many artists and students also felt a loss of connection.

“Making this exhibition has been a process of exchange and dialogue for artists to connect again with students or teachers who have influenced their own practices over the course of their careers,” she says.

AGGV grad student showcase

Music MFA Jose Enrico Tuazon plays for a full house at the AGGV

Fine Arts has a long history with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria: from faculty exhibits to alumni on staff, from offering the annual undergraduate Fine Arts Student Pass to having current Curator of Asian Art, Dr. Heng Wu, serve as an adjunct professor with our Art History & Visual Studies department, we’re justifiably proud of our 50-plus year history together.

As such, the AGGV was a natural and logical community partner to present the inaugural Arts Alive Graduate Showcase in April. Led by supervising faculty members Catherine Harding (AHVS), Megan Dickie (Visual Arts) and Benjamin Butterfield (Music), two evenings of graduate and PhD student public presentations featured creative work and scholarship by 15 students from all of our units. 

“The evenings were simply stunning,” says Harding. “I want to thank everyone for their courage, excellence, presence, amazing talent and dedicated professionalism. The world seems very dark these days, but our students all shone a huge great light into that darkness with this event.”

Each night of presentations followed a loose theme (“History & Place” and “Expressions Through Time”), with the additional MFA art exhibit In & Out of Context running April 15-29 in the AGGV’s Spencer Mansion. 

Writing MFA Letay Williams

Participating students included Francoise Keating and Hamed Yeganeh (AHVS); Ada Qian, Grisha Krivchenia, Timothy Carter, Marco Neri and Jose Enrico Tuazon (Music); Melissa Wotkyns and Lauren Jerke (Theatre); Letay Williams (Writing); and Carly Greene, Colton Hash, Robyn Miller, Karver Everson and Connor MacKinnon (Visual Arts).

With the hopes of making this an annual event, the Arts Alive showcase provided our students with a unique professional and social opportunity to showcase interdisciplinary graduate-level arts scholarship and creative practice in a vibrant community environment.   

Work by Visual Arts MFA Robyn Miller

Art gallery a fertile ground for magic of forests

A screenshot from “The Ground That Mends,” the stop motion video by UVic fine arts PhD alumna Connie Michele Morey

Groundbreaking research in the 1990s by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard revealed that trees “talk” to each other through an underground network of fungi. Until September 17, anyone who visits UVic’s downtown public art gallery will be able to easily imagine this network underfoot and a thick green canopy overhead while standing among the paintings and other artworks of a new exhibition. But imagining the tang of cedar and pine or experiencing art and virtual reality cannot fully recreate the tangible splendour and ecological diversity of old growth forests.

That tension, between living forest and framed likeness, defines the Still Standing: Ancient Forest Futures exhibition at Legacy Art Galleries Downtown. It is guest curated by Jessie Demers, who was at the War in the Woods protest at Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Sound in 1993.

“Please, John, Don’t Screw This Up For The Rest of Us / Staircase,” by Mike Andrew McLean, plexi-transmounted digichromatograph, metallic paper/plywood backing

Art, ecology and activism

Still Standing brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in a dynamic dialogue involving diverse perspectives on art, ecology and activism. It will feature oil paintings, colour-pencil and pastel drawings, and wood and metal sculptures, as well as photography, video, animation and installations—including by seven artists affiliated with the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Demers believes that art “can create common ground while challenging the paradigms that keep us separate from one another and the earth.” As curator of the spring 2021 Eden Grove Artist-in-Residence Program (edengroveair.com)—created to bear witness to both the forest and the Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) Blockades on Pacheedhat territory—Demers then worked with most of the 12 invited resident artists to develop this new exhibition in Victoria.

Her hope is that it will allow viewers to come away with a greater understanding of the urgency to protect these last stands of ancient forests.

On a snowy day in March 2020, I set up a donated canvas tent, which became the home and studio for the Eden Grove Artist-in-Residence Program. It had last been used by blockaders at Clayoquot Sound 30 years earlier, where I was arrested as a teenager. From March to May, 12 artists were invited to witness the magic of the forest, the strength of the community of forest protectors and the complexities inherent in colonial resource extraction on unceded lands.

—Jessie Demers, guest curator of Still Standing: Ancient Forest Futures at Legacy Downtown

The exhibition features eight of the artists from the Eden Grove program: Fine Arts alumna Connie Michele Morey; Heather Kai Smith; Jeremy Herndl; Kyle Scheurmann; Fine Arts alumnus and sessional instructor Mike Andrew McLean; Visual Arts professor Paul Walde; Chief Rande Cook (Kwakwaka’wakw), a Fine Arts alumnus and former Audain Professor of Contemporary Art Practice of the Pacific Northwest at UVic; and Valerie Salez.

They are joined by five other artists: Carey Newman (Kwakwaka’wakw, Coast Salish and settler), inaugural Impact Chair in Indigenous Art Practices with the Faculty of Fine Arts; Gord Hill (Kwakwaka’wakw); Fine Arts alumnus Jordan Hill (T’Souke); and Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson.

We are grateful for the opportunity to hold space for this exhibition and the many ways that visitors can experience these works. Still Standing brings together artists’ responses to the magic and power of Eden Grove. It allows for reflection and invites action on how we individually and collectively value the old growth forests that are special to this place.

—Caroline Riedel, Acting Director, Legacy Art Galleries

“The Black Cedar” by Jeremy Herndl, oil on canvas

Scene from “Talisman (III)” by Kelly Richardson, 4K video on silent seamless loop

Evoking a sense of awe

The exhibition is meant to evoke the feeling of BC’s temperate rainforests and a sense of awe in looking up at ancient arboreal wonder. The essence of these big trees, centuries old, is reflected in the work of the dozen artists. The exhibition also captures their interpretations of how people can work toward uprooting the damaging effects of colonialism and consumer culture in the context of old growth.

The pieces will range from Walde’s large-scale photograph of the circumference of one of Eden Grove’s immense and ancient cedars, to a sculptural floor piece by Cook and a silent video by Richardson.

Newman, working together with Camosun Innovates and a team of its mechanical engineering students, has also designed an innovative tool to apply sustainable practices—rather than using old-growth wood—for the same cultural purposes of carving his artworks. At the exhibition, he’ll be presenting a cedar maquette of the second-growth totem he’s currently working on.

Art as instigator of change

Demers adds, “In this time of climate crisis, we need collective action and I see art as a powerful instigator of change. By sharing new perspectives and embodied experiences, art can move us past paralysis and into action.” With that in mind, the exhibition will also include an area where viewers can explore further research online and write postcards to government.

Still Standing runs at Legacy Downtown through to Sept. 17.

—Tara Sharpe

This story original ran on the UVic News site