Across two site-specific works, Sandra Brewster’s exhibition “By Way of Communion” employs an intimacy with materials to convey the insistent yet fragile relationship to place that is produced by diaspora.
Inhabiting the Power Plant’s clerestory—a narrow passage capped by a soaring skylight—is DENSE, 2021–22, a large-scale and painterly photographic work installed across the hallway-like space’s two facing walls. As its title suggests, the piece collapses several landscapes into one another. On one wall, a continuous horizon line in black, gray, and rust marks the outline of the Essequibo River in Guyana, where Brewster’s parents are from: Its turbulent waters are stained a warm clay color, the pigment dripping toward the floor as though the estuary has exceeded its banks. Across from it, the viewer is confronted by another landscape, this time a sprawling forest scene photomontaged from Canadian and Guayanese locations. Using her trademark strategy of photo-based gel transfers, Brewster applied the pictures directly to the wall and then scrubbed the paper and glue away, leaving creases and tears that evidence her labor and suggest the fragility of her connection to these places as home. While the artist is best known for her blurred photographic portraits of friends, family members, and cultural icons (a concurrent solo exhibition at Toronto’s Olga Korper Gallery features new larger-than-life portraits of figures including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Frantz Fanon, and Nina Simone), here Brewster uses frottage to create a portrait of place, conveying what Black queer theorist Keguro Macharia might describe as “the range of bodily sensations produced by the insistent touching that is diaspora.”
Outside the gallery, Brewster trains the visitor’s gaze to another horizon line: that of Lake Ontario, a body of water that demarcates the city’s edge and yet is rarely visible, as it is blocked by an elevated expressway and a wall of condominiums. Her first public sculpture, A Place to Put Your Things, 2022 (on view until September 30, 2022), takes the form of a swing set: Its seat, cast in powder-coated steel, is the shape of two amorphous figures (a mother and child, perhaps) who face one another in a warm embrace. Inviting us to sit, put down what we may be carrying, and play, Brewster’s sculpture offers a temporary moment of rest from which to contemplate the landscape.