let’s dance


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steamboat mao

Reading Walter Benjamin’s Mickey Mouse fragment after the Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art by way of the Cultural Revolution and rural urbanization in Shenzhen reminds us that the revolutionary and the subversive refers to potential here and now, not any particular artistic form or genre. Anyway, I was reminded that the Mickey Mao pun is compelling and not actually shocking: they really do go together like vinegar and oil on a global word salad. Anyway, I was playing with photoshop and mashed up Mickey and Mao and came up with Steamboat Mao, a tribute to Benjamin that plays on Mao’s status as the Great Helmsman and Mickey’s former status as the ultimate underdog:

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The Mickey Mouse fragment comes from from a conversation among Walter Benjamin, Gustav Gluck and Kurt Weill:

Property relations in Mickey Mouse cartoons: here we see for the first time that it is possible to have one’s own arm, even one’s own body, stolen.

The route taken by Mickey Mouse is more like that of a file in an office than it is like that of a marathon runner.

In these films, mankind makes preparations to survive civilization.

Mickey Mouse proves that a creature can still survive even when it has thrown off all resemblance to a human being. He disrupts the entire hierarchy of creatures that is supposed to culminate in mankind.

These films disavow experience more radically than ever before. In such a world, it is not worthwhile to have experience.

Similarity to folk tales. Not since fairy tales have the most important and most vital events been evoked more unsymbolically and more unatmospherically. All Mickey Mouse films are founded on the motif of leaving home in order to learn what fear is.

So the explanation for the huge popularity of these films is not mechanization, their form; nor is it a misunderstanding. It is simply the fact that the public recognizes its own life in them.

Discover Meilin

Halloween 2010 (yes, tomorrow Sunday Oct 31), from 7 to 10 pm, the nine Meilin coaster raiders will present their work at the Art De Viver Sculpture Academy No.8 Zhongkang Road, Shangmeilin / 福田区 上梅林中康路八号 雕塑家园圆筒. The event is bi-lingual and will include opportunities to discuss and think about what it means and how it feels to inhabit Shenzhen.

I will present, ¨If this is where we are, it must be how things are done¨ (detail above, introduction to other raiders, here.

Please join us.

across sandy paths

wild illuminations swirl

home, in southern pines

more illuminated pines, here.

The Sea of Desire is Never Filled – presentation

claire accepted 芒种

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

On Mar 7, 2010, I presented the “Sea of Desire” cycle of poetry and images at the Inheritance-Shenzhen art space in Baishizhou.

The performance was designed to encourage interaction between the audience and the works; indeed, i hoped that the images and poetry would encourage reflection on land reclamation in houhai. I am grateful to all who came and participated.

The performance and presentation were quite simple. Four images (迁海,芒种,塘,and 天) were laid on a table with calligraphy pens and markers. Members of the audience were asked to read the poems, alternating between the English and Chinese versions. When the reading concluded, the audience was invited to respond to the poems and images directly on the images. At the end of the day, i dedicated and signed the images over to four members of the audience. The four recipients will now grow each image-poem into a new work of art. Images and recipients, here.

The poems.

The Sea of Desire is Never Filled


You ask what came before –

Before Backwaters were reclaimed,
Before Reforms unmade the Revolution,
Before Shenzhen Market was peacefully liberated,
Before South China Sea huaqiao built the Illustrious Ancestor School,
Before Li Hongzhang established China Merchants and Lin Zexu’s disgrace,
Before the Red Feather Barbarians occupied Tiger’s Gate,
Before gentle waves delivered Zhao Bing’s unblemished corpse to Tianhou at Chiwan,
Before divisions and revisions of prefectures and counties, villages and saltfields, oyster racks and pearls,
Before rope figures – delicate exemplars of the Middle Neolithic – danced on storage pots at Salt Head,

Let us be precise.

Before all this, there was what there is now – silt deposits, the twice-daily rhythm of the tide, weakening summer monsoons, phytoplankton, fish and shellfish, migratory birds, kandelia candel flourishing inflorescence, white, in ball-like clusters above the mud.

II. A Lexicon of Estuarine Desire

Fattening ground

Brackish tides
Summer heat
Sweet discharge

– dare I swallow?

Brackish tides
Winter cooling
Patient cultivation

III. American I wend

an unfamiliar coast, where oyster beds and buried toys, litter and despair thicken deltan arteries – the Shahe, Futian and Buji
Rivers channelized and redirected become bloated, choking runoff drains.

American I crash

on desiccated shores, which crumble as through dust I wander from Shekou east to Houhai, through western district landfill and village reconstruction
Zones appropriated and promoted do not a new world make.

American I sing

an unrequited (and yes) unwelcome dirge, when passport status trumps lament and unskilled, unclaimed teens drift in globalizing storms;
Meiguoren they say and neatly change the topic, what big guns you have.


On the edge of the known world
The previous barbarians swam and ate raw fish
Lived on boats and were forbidden land
They secured their young with ropes and threw them overboard.

Technical advances might have made it safer
– thin pipes for breathing, grease to keep small bodies warm –
But the shoals were just too deep and the harvest that uncertain

Children dove for pearls
And children were the reason
Savage, dangerous, naked like otters
They cast their offerings to the sea.

V. The Grammar of Evolution

The mind is not a mountain
Desire is not a sea

Yet each can be likened to each and in our likeness joined in thought through deeds, inherited habits of conjugation and decline –

We say, “The sea of desire is never filled.”
We also say, “Move mountains, fill the sea.”

When words become relentlessly literal
– As if language were mere talk
When metaphor becomes compulsion
– As if wishes could be commands
When articulation becomes unmediated truth
– As if poetry ought be research and design

When our lives are reduced to disfigured speech, then we level mountains to reclaim actual seas and call it progress. Full stop.

and in Chinese (translated by Yang Qian):






II 三角洲性欲词典






III 美国的我慢慢流



比灵歌更动听,没有技术而无家可归的青年 泊与国际化的世界上


前批野人 水吃生鱼

—呼吸器细 ,保温体油—

野人 向大海献祭

V 进化的语法




当说事儿变成纯粹真现的自说 话时

当 生活 缩到没有了想象力的语言存在时,我们移山去填真正的海,为之进步。句号。

the sea of desire is never filled


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

On Sun, Mar 7, inheritance-shenzhen will offer a program of artist talks given by women artists working in the PRD. We hope to generate dialogue between and about different generations of artistic work. Please come!


Phoebe Wong – Head of Research at the Asia Art Archive
Doreen Liu – of Node Architecture
Duan Jiyuan – conceptual artist from Guangzhou
Mrs Teng – director of the Shenzhen womens society of artists
Mary Ann O’Donnell – artist-ethnographer

Time: Saturday, Mar 7, 3:30 – 6:30

Place: No 104, Block 10, Tangxia Community, Hua Xia Road
Metro: Shi Jie Zhi Chuang (C)

广东省 深圳市 南山区 华夏路 鹤塘小区 10,栋 104号 地铁: 世界之窗

Another Walk in Shenzhen

Poet Steven Schroeder and I have collaborated to create A Walk in Shenzhen II. The original Walk took place four years ago, 2005.