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. 

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.

Trans queer UVic alumna named Rhodes Scholar

There’s getting a great education, and then there’s what you do with it. Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes scholar has big plans for both.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy is one of 11 young Canadians—the only one in BC—chosen for the prestigious scholarship, which provides two fully funded years of post-graduate studies at England’s Oxford University. Levy, a chemistry major, will begin a master’s degree there in fall 2023.

“Being chosen for this scholarship has been so unexpected. Everyone who I was up against in BC was incredibly brilliant—it could easily have been any of us,” says Levy, 24, who got to know the other provincial candidates at a dinner with Rhodes adjudicators in the run-up to selection earlier this month.

“I feel proud as the first trans queer woman in Canada to have been selected. However, I’m at the peak of every other privilege—white, supportive parents, grew up in a good home with financial stability. Right now, you often need all those things going for you to succeed as a trans person in these types of competitions. I hope I’m the outlier of what will one day be a normal thing for trans people regardless of their backgrounds.”

— Julia Levy

The Rhodes scholarship key criteria include academic excellence, demonstrated courage and devotion to duty, and moral force of character.

“Julia has had an amazing journey at UVic and is one of the most talented chemists our department has developed. Her passion for science and her drive to make the world a better place is an inspiration to everyone who is lucky enough to know her. She has a brilliant future and I’m so excited to see all the great things she accomplishes,” says Jeremy Wulff, a UVic chemistry professor who supervised Levy.

Including Levy, 12 UVic students have been named Rhodes scholars.

At the intersection of art and chemistry

Levy’s many achievements at UVic and in her community clearly caught the eye of the Rhodes selection committee. Having graduated with a major in chemistry and a minor in visual arts, Levy actively works to bring those two disciplines together in ways that benefit people.

“Julia is a dedicated artist who is continually pushing the bounds of the discipline,” says Visual Arts professor Paul Walde. “Always questioning and probing the limits of what’s possible, her creativity and drive for excellence makes her an excellent candidate for this prestigious award.”

In her second year at UVic, she invented a virtual reality program to help struggling chemistry students visualize molecules better, and went on to develop an augmented-reality phone app for visualizing complex shapes that is now featured in UVic chemistry workbooks.

Work by Julia Levy

The art of observation

Intrigued by how she could use art in ways that illuminated the experiences of being trans, Levy created a participatory art installation to evoke in viewers the same uneasy sense of being watched that trans people experience as part of their daily lives.

She invited viewers to enter what appeared to be a private space with a camera and video screen, where they saw a view of themselves from the back. Some seized the rare angle to check out how they looked from behind, or to fix their hair—only to discover upon exiting the room that their actions had been witnessed by everyone in the larger room.

Levy also served on UVic’s equity and diversity committee and was active in the ongoing campaign to retrofit university washrooms into non-gendered spaces.

“I’m a mile wide and an inch deep in terms of all the projects I was involved in at UVic,” jokes Levy. “I’m a big believer in never being just one thing. I’m a trans woman, but I’m also a scientist. I’m an artist, but I’m also an activist.”

Levy’s research focus reflects a key UVic impact area of technology and the human experience, and the university’s commitment to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Empower people

“My biggest interest in everything I do is to lift people up. As a trans queer woman, I know what it is to be at the bottom, to be ‘othered.’ I feel that this Rhodes scholarship is such an opportunity to amplify my voice on the issues that really matter to me.”

Levy’s extensive community work includes volunteering with the local Gender Generations Project for trans youth and their families. The project’s twice-yearly gatherings bring youth together with trans adult mentors—so important to young people as reminders that “things do get better,” says Levy.

Levy also worked with UVic’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, applying her chemistry skills for public good.

The project offers a drop-in service in a downtown Victoria storefront where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis. That’s a life-saving initiative in light of poisoned illicit drugs having killed 10,000 British Columbians in the last seven years. “It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” says Levy.

Levy says she was “very lucky to have grown up surrounded by lesbians” who gave her the confidence to set her own standards for the kind of woman she is. She cites a number of professors as integral to her academic growth—UVic chemists Peter Wan, Wulff and Scott McIndoe, Lindsay Herriot from the School of Child and Youth Care, and cross-disciplinary researcher David Glowacki from the University of Bristol, whom she worked with on virtual reality.

Some of the most influential people in her academic growth were teaching assistants, co-workers and project supervisors, she adds.

She expects to study computational chemistry at Oxford, perhaps with a focus on digital education or health. She’s also drawn to the idea of getting a medical degree that could one day put her on the front lines of helping trans youth access better health care. The Rhodes scholarship covers two years of study with the possibility of two more.

Levy was already part of the UVic community when she transitioned three years ago, which spared her the experience of “the trans foot being the first one you have to put forward” when in an unfamiliar space. That will not be the case at Oxford.

“I’m interested to see how that will go,” says Levy. “But I know from my own life that whenever I see that trans women have achieved something new, it gives me the assurance that things are moving forward. If getting the Rhodes scholarship amplifies my voice, this is going to be such an opportunity to speak truth to power.”

—Jody Paterson

This story originally appeared on the UVic News site on Nov 28, 2022

$1.4 million research fellowship for Dr Marcus Milwright

Dr Marcus Milwright, chair of the Department of Art History & Visual Studies, has been named a recipient of the British Academy’s 2022 Global Professorships.

This four-year research professorship — valued at £898,000 (about $1.48 million CDN) — will begin in February 2023 and will see Milwright working at the Department of History of Art at England’s University of York through to 2027.

“It’s an honour to receive this position,” says Milwright. One of only eight professors selected for this prestigious international professorship — and the only scholar in Canada to be chosen — his research project is titled, Making Meaning: Craft Practices and the Process of Change in Islamic Art.

“It’s based on the idea that we understand objects when we understand the processes of making them, and the people responsible for doing that — how they develop their skills, the environments they work in,” he explains. “It’s not simply a question of how something gets made: it’s through the process of making we understand the meanings those objects have in their societies.”

Studying Islamic art and archaeology

Milwright has already spent more than 20 years studying Islamic art and archaeology, and traditional craft practices in the Middle East. The author of seven books on the subject, his most recent publication is Made for the Eye of One Who Sees: Canadian Contributions to the Study of Islamic Art and Archaeology (McGill/Queens University Press & Royal Ontario Museum), co-edited with fellow AHVS professor Eva Baboula.

You can find out more about his work on the AHVS Gateway to Art website, as well as his own Crafts of Syria and Crafts of Iraq research websites.

For Making Meaning, he’ll still be working with archaeology, excavated artifacts and museum objects but he will also broaden the focus to include textual and photographic sources.

“It’s about how we can extract aspects of the lives of people who are often not well documented,” he says. “It’s the elites of society who tend to write — and be written about — so this is a way of finding out more about the lives of people who actually created the objects and made those societies work.”

More than just producing research, however, Milwright sees this Global Professorship as an opportunity to share his findings in different ways through articles, books, websites, podcasts and public engagement — as well as more open-source methods of information dissemination.

“There’s an urgent need to try and record craft practices across the Islamic world — as well as across the world itself,” he says. “As we see crafts dying out, we see how war, instability and displacement often lead to a severing of craft traditions that have been handed down over generations in families. I want to collect as much of that information as possible and then share it so other people can use it.”

Connection with the past

Originally trained as a painter, Milwright has always been interested in the relationship between an object and its making. But it was on an early archaeological excavation in Jordan that his relationship with the past first came alive.

“I remember one of the objects we found was a little cup used for drinking tea or coffee,” he recalls. “It was just a disc of clay which had been turned up at the edges then fired in an open bonfire, but you could see the finger marks in it. That was my first connection with someone I’d never know anything else about . . . a human being making decisions, using their expertise to make a cup. Even if we can never give people their names, we can still start to reconstruct their lives by knowing how they made things.”

All too often, our knowledge of the past is based on objects and structures — coins, ceramics, mosaics, temples — celebrating the rich and powerful. But, as Milwright reminds us, “even the great objects made for kings, sultans and emperors were dependent on the craft sector to make things.”

“Even when these people seem infinitely powerful, there are logistical concerns which come down to the aspect of crafts and resources,” he says. “It’s these things I keep coming back to, because they have an impact on meaning: if you don’t take practical concerns into consideration, you can be persuaded by the rhetoric of rulers that they have infinite power — but they really don’t.”

Making Meaning

Milwright’s four-year research focus is best explained through an excerpt from his Global Professorship proposal:

“Despite growing attention to the contexts of Islamic art, the intentions of patrons and the reception of artworks have dominated the interpretation of change from the seventh to the early twentieth centuries. This model has underestimated the role of materiality in production networks and individual products,” he writes.

Making Meaning: Craft Practices and the Process of Change in Islamic Art “acknowledges that meaning was shaped in decisive ways through the action of external political, economic and cultural challenges on groups of craftspeople, their knowledge and practices. The guiding hypothesis will be that the choices made through manufacturing processes are crucial to the generation of style (technical and visual) and meaning.”

Milwright will concentrate on the “context of making” through four thematic case studies, which will “address the diversity of media covered under the label of Islamic art and examine meaningfully the connections across craft traditions, craftspeople and materials while re-considering where the art stands between its patrons, makers and consumers.”

Milwright with some of the important Middle Eastern artifacts held in UVic’s Special Collections