TSANG Kin-Wah : The Second Seal
by Álvaro Rodríguez Fominaya

The Second Seal is a multichannel digital video installation with sound by artist Tsang Kin-wah. It is part of the series The Seven Seals, which is still in progress. The Second Seal, as its title implies, is the second in a series of seven independent installations. It is an epic scale project that the artist initiated in 2009.

Language is present in his different series of works and media throughout his artistic production. His use of language is idiosyncratic, convulsive and obsessive. Language is at once means and end. It involves problems that are related to the formal but also it is part of issues that are connected to the conceptual. Tsang Kin-wah is a heretic and an agent of provocation. This particular series of works is related to what the artist describes as Pattern Paintings and Pattern and Text Installations, which he started working on in 2002 with his “Untitled – Bible”. His most recognizable floral and organic shaped text installations go back to 2003, a year when he created installations both for private and public environments. It is relevant to note that commissions take an important place in his oeuvre, both from private patrons and public institutions.

The current video installation takes its name from The Seven Seals as mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible’s New Testament, also known as the Apocalypse. Despite these historical references and roots, the artist inhabits a space between the idea of Appropriation, Conceptual Art and New Media. We can trace this use of language back to Dada and the New York 60s Conceptual Movement.

The theme of the Apocalypse is recurrent in Western iconography and the History of Art, and it was deployed in the past as a tool to represent images that otherwise were not accepted in mainstream imagery. Here the artist is using a religious backdrop to approach contemporary themes that resonate in us. In a certain way, Tsang Kin-wah is following the tradition of illuminated manuscripts through the Middle Ages.

The artist creates an environment that surrounds the viewer. Two channels are being generated simultaneously, and the resulting images are distributed through 6 video projectors.

This specific work has the subtitle of “Every Being That Opposes Progress Should Be Food For You”. Tsang Kin-wah uses a subtitle for each of these works in order to provide further context and a conceptual framework. These subtitles are based on actual texts from diverse sources, but more often than not they are written by the artist. Other subtitles for other chapters include: “They Are Already Old. They Don’t Need To Exist Anymore” or “It Would Be Better If You Have Never Been Born”. These statements set the tone for the conceptual device that has been created by the artist: a prophetic tone that throws the viewer into an abstract construction that needs to be painstakingly decoded.

The projections show phrases that descend the walls with sensuous, snake-like movements, rebounding or fading away upon reaching the floor. Slowly, the words and phrases multiply, filling the projection space, and disappearing on the text-saturated wall. These sentences descend like a waterfall, creating a dissonance between its violent and cryptic content and the beauty of the images. Meanwhile sound engulfs the viewer. Initially the sound resembles the action of typing on a keyboard, later this sound is transformed into the noise of a cascade, enhancing this metaphorical connection to nature. This visual and acoustic metaphor operates to disempower and overwhelm the viewer. There is a disconnect between meaning and signifier, and between shape, form and color. The electronic soundtrack evolves from tenuous to disturbing, through a crescendo that approximately follows the rhythm of the images. After a climax, a pause develops the soundtrack into a finale that engages the continuing loop of the work. Technology and History blend into a new realm.

For this installation the artist deploys only red colored letters, as a direct reference to the original text of the Second Seal, where the image of a “Red Horse” is mentioned. In other installations of this series the graphics are so far: white, black or grey, and always in monochrome font. As the Second Seal refers to violence and war, the artist thought it most appropriate to use red.
The words that appear on screen read as: The Sun, The Earth And The Red/ The Peace, The Purge And The Just/ The Iron, The Gun And The Struggle/ The Horse, The Sword And The Party/ The Man, The Flood, And The Dead Letters/ The Battle, The Fighting And The Convicts Of Hunger, and so on
Through these images and language the viewer can relate the artist’s work to contemporary politics, war and social unrest. In this way it becomes an effective commentary of Today.