SPACE invites one artist to produce a yearlong series of images for a public-facing billboard located on the east façade of Mercer Union.
Mercer Union’s SPACE billboard commission has invited artist Shellie Zhang for its 2021–22 season for a yearlong series titled, A day passes like a year. Known for her highly composed still life works that assemble objects of pop iconography, cultural construction, and diasporic memory, Zhang’s photographs offer vibrant gestures of reclamation, humor, and dissidence.
In a quadriptych portrait of the year ahead and a reflection on the year that has passed, A day passes like a year looks to the Chinese four seasons painting traditions and the immediate locale of Mercer Union to glean a format for telling time in its place through change, personal connection, and collective association.
Ode to Summer (2022) is the final edition in the yearlong series; accompanying the work is a text written by Letticia Cosbert Miller.
Each summer, the city bestows upon its inhabitants heat and thirst. The sun, warm and compassionate, spills its rays out on the ground and we, whether grateful or resentful of its swelter, seek out nooks to retreat from or celebrate its arrival. Some of us pack our totes with high fructose libations and journey to backyard barbecues, covered patios, or the humble shade of maple trees. Others remain indoors, close to their air conditioning units, venturing out only to the hallowed convenience store, plunging their arms into deep freezers for popsicles with gumball eyes and scouring display refrigerators for fluorescent beverages.
Amidst the city’s heat, a burst of cool, fresh air emits from Shellie Zhang’s Ode to Summer, the culmination of her yearlong series A day passes like a year, which chronicles the changing seasons and environment of Bloordale Village in Toronto’s west end. The neighborhood is home to convenience stores galore, Bengali grocers, and Caribbean restaurants like Vena’s Roti (gone but not forgotten) and Caribbean Queen of Patties, above which I used to live. Zhang arranges the liquid offerings of these neighborhood landmarks into a delicious rainbow, a spectrum of orange soda, fruit punch red, green grapefruit, kola champagne yellow, cyan Slush Puppie, and grape soda violet, whetting our appetite for summer revelry.
A pattern of psychedelic circles form a sundial, saturating the frame at this bustling corner of Bloordale. Staring at them transports me back to the summers I spent in the neighborhood, the perfume of allspice and thyme wafting up from the restaurant below, weaving through the small crowd of cyclists awaiting entry to the bike repair shop, gearing up for riding’s peak season. I pluck one of Spongebob’s bubblegum eyes out of its sorbet socket, watching the passersby as I chew, many of them parched and craving a sip of candy coloured relief. For a little while Ode to Summer loosens the heat’s grip with its promise that the sun will set, the air will grow cool, and our thirsts will be quenched.
— Letticia Cosbert Miller