This sculpture's title refers to its dimensions in centimetres, 50 x 60 x 38. It is one of a number of works that comprise Dawn 1995 (T07060-4), an ensemble of sculptures that were brought together for display in the Art Now exhibition space at the Tate Gallery in 1995. When invited to reconfigure Dawn for the exhibition Between Cinema and a Hard Place at Tate Modern in 2000, Balka chose to exclude elements of the earlier installation and to include this new element. This added a sixth sculpture to the group that comprises Dawn. It has long been Balka's practice to add or subtract elements from related groups of works, based on the particularities of the place in which he installs them.
50 x 60 x 38 is wall mounted. Two flat oblong metal plates are joined along one long seam, at an angle to one another but also angled down towards the viewer, who stands before it as if perusing the pages of an opened book. Two small holes are drilled into the flat sheets of metal, their surfaces 'distressed' with an acid coating. A small container the shape and size of a tin can is attached to the bottom edge of the work. While abstract, the sculptures resemble objects in the real world. In correspondence with a Tate curator (January 2000), Balka said that the idea for the piece came from the way in which notches are cut into trees in order to channel their resin into containers. For him, the piece is about collecting something.
In Dawn, a narrow steel bar runs around the room at a height of 2500 mm, the extent of the artist's reach. This line binds together all the sculptures in the installation and represents a horizon line. The horizon is revealed afresh each day at dawn, a time often marked by great poignancy. As Tate curator Frances Morris puts it: 'our horizon first becomes apparent at dawn and marks the limit of the night, the start of the day, when shadows first fall. Encounters at dawn are rare for most people but often moving. Awakened at dawn, we hear of extraordinary, private events, of births and deaths.' (Miroslaw Balka: Dawn, exhibition pamphlet, Tate Gallery, London 1995, [p.1].) The beginning and end of the steel bar almost meet just inside the room and they have been shaped to form a pair of hooks. 50 x 60 x 38 is placed directly below these hooks, establishing a relationship between the two pieces. Its position and the small 'collecting' vessel recall the receptacle for holy water often placed at the entrance to a church. The two holes in the sheet metal can also be read as a pair of eyes, suggesting the possibility that the vessel might be for collecting tears. This allusion to bodily residue, evidence of an absent figure, is echoed by other materials used in Dawn such as ash, salt, soap, felt and the linoleum from Balka's late grandmother's house. These residual materials, strongly associated with Balka's personal history, repeatedly function in his work as indicators of absence and loss. One commentator wrote that, although Balka's works do not literally refer to the body, they are intended to be more corporeal than if they did:
They are traces of a life, of memories and sorrow and a period of mourning. The
transient moment, the unstable form, the action of shifting sand changes into
grains of salt and particles of ash remaining in one place for ever. In Balka's work
pieces of soap left behind by a dear friend no longer change their shape under the
touch of the hands that enclosed them in the past. A modest portion of
automatically lived life remains in a solid shape although the person died long
(Maria Morzuch, Miroslaw Balka: Die Rampe, p.26.)
Frances Morris, Miroslaw Balka: Dawn, exhibition pamphlet, Tate Gallery, London 1995.
Miroslaw Balka, exhibition catalogue, The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago 1992.
Miroslaw Balka: Die Rampe, exhibition catalogue, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven 1994.