SPACE: Shellie Zhang | A day passes like a year: Ode to Spring

21 March 2022 - 20 June 2022

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 Spring features objects sourced from AGP Mart, Bargain Club Superstore, Salvation Army, TL Variety, Value Village and neighbourhood recycling bins. — Shellie Zhang

Ode to Spring is the third edition in the yearlong series; accompanying the work is a text written by Stephanie Wong Ken that can be found below.

Installation views: Shellie Zhang, A day passes like a year: Ode to Spring. Commissioned by Mercer Union, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.



Pure Air

Over the past year, I made regular visits to dollar stores, inhaling the artificial smell of packaging, wandering aisles stuffed with dust pans, candle holders, and supermax tin foil; detergents and air fresheners promising “fresh country garden,” or the scent of tropical flowers in a hothouse that would fill my apartment. I had my first bad fall off my bike on my way home from a Dollarama, leaving a bit of my skin on the asphalt in front of the Value Village on Bloor near Lansdowne.

A block away, Shellie Zhang’s Ode to Spring hung outside at Mercer Union, a still life of objects bought from thrift shops, dollar stores, convenience stores, or donated by friends who live in the neighbourhood. A bright, odd arrangement that grows more familiar the closer you stare, like a beacon.

Zhang tells me she made Ode to Spring a few months before the season occurred in real time, imbuing the work with a desire for longer days and less icy cold, more blooms and less dead or dying things. The tableau reminds me of the partition in my parents’ dining room: a heavy set of four panels depicting dark-haired women in white robes roaming through a changing landscape, curving their arms around delicately carved flowers and bonsai trees, gliding from formal sitting rooms to gardens. I spent hours staring at these women at the dinner table, waiting for the scene to turn, or a cloud to shift out of the handmade frame—a family heirloom that hasn’t been moved since it was opened over 20 years ago. I think about all the dust it’s accumulated, and all the arguments and tears and birthday songs it’s witnessed.

Zhang’s tableau remakes the natural scenes found in traditional partitions using cheerfully branded items, familiar objects that create instant happiness by design. Who wouldn’t want to visit the aisles of this spring, nibbling on always-ripe bunches of grapes and soft foam slices of fruit, releasing Pure Air from a plastic nozzle? Like looking through a piece of glass in the sun or tipping over a pink vase that could also be a cup, depending on the time of day. Like remembering a fall on the asphalt next to a building soon to be demolished and replaced, a change that will fold itself into the neighborhood until it’s invisible.

All winter, I longed for spring and watched my indoor plants turn brown, sitting in pots from Dollarama. I scrolled through videos of bright green rooms, recognizing the signs that my soil was off, my drainage was bad; I just needed to mist, mist, mist. Ode to Spring holds the promise of a new season waiting to be found and a reminder to pay closer attention to the things that won’t break down or decompose.

—Stephanie Wong Ken


Shellie Zhang is a multidisciplinary artist based in Tkaronto/Toronto. She creates images, objects and projects that explore how ideas of integration, diversity and assimilation are implemented, negotiated, and manifested in relation to lived experiences. Zhang is interested in how culture is learned and sustained, and how cultural objects and iconographies are remembered and preserved. She is a recipient of the 2021 Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts Artist Award, and in 2017, was an Artist-in-Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Recent and upcoming projects include exhibitions at AKA, Saskatoon (2021); the plumb, Toronto (2021); and the Anchorage Museum (2020).

Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer currently based in Tkaronto. Find more of her work at

SPACE invites one artist to produce a yearlong series of images for a public-facing billboard located on the east façade of Mercer Union. Shellie Zhang’s A day passes like a year: Ode to Spring (2022) is the third edition in a series of four billboard images commissioned by Mercer Union.

Image: Shellie Zhang, detail from A day passes like a year: Ode to Spring, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto.