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

Temporal Dislocations

I have spent most of the past fifteen years of my life thinking about the creation of space in Shenzhen. However, the trip to Switzerland provoked me into thinking about time – the other half of that ever useful phrase “chronotope”.

Before I left for Switzerland, I sat in front of my computer and imagined what might connect Switzerland and Shenzhen and came up with rather banal pseudo-statistics like: (1) Switzerland has a population of 7 million, and Shenzhen has a guestimated population of 14 million, that means we can stuff two Switzerlands into one Shenzhen; (2) Switzerland is as large as the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone, which means (a) those 7 million people have a lot more room than we do in Shenzhen and (b) there are about 70 million living in the PRD, so we could stuff 10 Switzerlands into the Delta; (3) there are lots of fake Rolexes for sale in Shenzhen, possibly even more than there are real Rolexes for sale in Switzerland.

“Temporal Dislocations”, a two panel image-poem was the temporal unfolding of my thinking, travel, and reflection on Switzerland and Shenzhen. First, I made the panels: Swiss Times, which used maps of Switzerland and Rolex watches to map Shenzhen and note key historical moments in the creation of the SEZ’s chronology and Shenzhen Speed, which departed from Marx’s insight that in capitalist societies “all that is solid melts into air” in order to express the experience of capital accumulation in Shenzhen. Next, in Switzerland, writers and other food-scape participants, wrote various comments about time in general and/or our times together on the scrolls. Finally, back in Shenzhen, I made frames out of snapshots from the trip and the events that led up to the Swiss visit. So chronologically, one frame begins where the other ends.

However, as I have marinated in the idea of time, I have realized that there are at least three ways that the social production, use, and valuation of time in Switzerland and Shenzhen might be interestingly compared. So, a bit of anthropological musing, which might be understood as theorization without a literature review (and any real in depth fieldwork in Switzerland):

(1) Time as an expression of personal character. I’ve already speculated on the whole “以人为本” sense of time. Here, I’ll just mention another example of the personalized vs externalized experience of time in the public expression of “ability” versus something like “respect” (yes, I need a better word, please suggest). In Shenzhen, there is constant talk about “firsts” – the first person to do something, the first person to earn something, the first person to achieve something… that first sets the parameters for everything that follows. This means what is important is pride of place, rather than the actual means needed to grab it. However, In Switzerland, I had the impression that respect for the externalization of time through amazingly efficient clocks seemed to make punctuality function within discourses about respect and equality, so that vying for first place, especially elbowing one’s place to the front of the line, would definately come off as nouveau riche. So in Shenzhen, being first means one has “ability”, where it seemed that in Switzerland, being punctual meant one was “respectful of others”.

(2) Time as a way of making a living. The time as a way of making a living envolves different relations to the measurement of time. In Switzerland, people make watches, so they are actually involved in the mechanicalization of time. Click. Click. Click. Whereas in Shenzhen, the city has flourished because of high-speed mass production, which is in fact our competative advantage. The factories and assembly lines, the construction sites, all run 24-7, unless there’s some kind of electrical rationing going on or a recession in the United States.

(3) How history is materialized. In Switzerland, much social value was created by saving wonderful examples from the past. They invested much in preservation so that what came out of history were unique buildings and objects that could not be replaced. In contrast, Shenzhen focuses on being in front of developments, what is actually pursued is the future, which appears as blueprints and models. Once built, there is a sense in which the value is less than the next, great project.

(4) What needs to be theorized is the way in which it all connects through international finance. “Interest” is, of course, a product of rules about making money simply because life unfolds. (And once upon a Catholic time, wasn’t usury a sin?) All those Swiss banks. I don’t know how they’re connected to Shenzhen. I do know Switzerland was the first country to sign a bi-lateral trade agreement with the PRC (Feb this year). I suspect there’s lots of Chinese money in Swiss bank accounts. I know that many Chinese students attend Swiss schools, especially those that grant degrees in hospitality.

(5 – just because numbers make it all seem logical) What’s also interesting to me is that different kinds of city’s grow out of these different value systems. So, Switzerland has cities that are dedicated to the production of watches, and cities that are beautifully preserved tributes to past worlds – Romainmotier and St. Gall, for example. Likewise, the different areas in Shenzhen are defined by manufacturing and the next area to be developed – Gangxia and huge tracts of Houhai, for example.

Anyway, Temporal Dislocations may be viewed here.