Krystyna Dul: A snapshot of womanhood

02 déc. 2021
Krystyna Dul: A snapshot of womanhood

© Maciej Gapiński
Article in English
Auteur: Katja Taylor

Whether she’s portraying the male gaze, addressing sexual abuse or documenting her own experience of motherhood, Krystyna Dul delves deep beyond the surface in psychological portraits that get to grips with what it means to be a woman today. We sat down with the photographer to discuss some of the issues she raises in her work and how she processes her own relationships by visual means.

 “At some point I made a conscious choice to focus on things that move me deeply,” begins Dul when asked how she chooses her subjects. “If something really touches or upsets me I channel that energy into my art.” Depending on the project, she visually translates personal stories or draws on other people’s lived experience, yet always creates emphatic portraits that leave room for interpretation on the part of the viewer. “After all, you can’t really dictate how people understand things,” she points out. “Everybody comes to the work with their own images and something new is created in the process. That’s the beauty of art.”

© Krystyna Dul

Resonance, 2015 © Krystyna Dul

Subverting the male gaze

A work that certainly invites multiple readings and accommodates different and diverging perspectives is Resonance (2015-2019). Sparked by a chance encounter, the project documents the house of a man the photographer never met. Instead, Dul chronicles the owner’s story through the traces he left in the space, notably through a collection of photographs, drawings and sculptures of women. What emerged was a portrait of an elderly man and his obsession with the female form. “There was something disturbing about the place,” says the artist. “It made me think a lot about the male gaze and the way men approach women. The whole project was a reflection on that relationship.” By superimposing her own gaze on top of her subject’s gaze, Dul complicates the viewing experience and offers an ambivalent reading of the scene, as the traces of the man’s presence in the space not only point to his fixation on women’s bodies, but also to his solitude and lonely existence.

Resonance was presented at Lët’z Arles in 2019 and, interestingly, provoked very different reactions from men and women. “It really spoke to women, whereas many male visitors tended to write the man off as a pervert. I suppose it’s down to how we’re raised as boys and girls, we have different sensibilities,” muses the artist. Someone clearly wanted to continue the conversation, though, because at some point Dul found little prints of nudes hidden amongst the works on display; “I guess someone wanted to add to the collection,” she laughs. The series has since been shown as part of group exhibitions in Luxembourg, Poland and the Czech Republic, yet the project has an afterlife of its own too. Dul recently discovered a bra from the 1920s or 1930s in the subject’s house, hidden beneath the floorboards in the attic. “It felt like there was another story to tell there. The object is now on show in the Czech Republic along with the photographs.” Thus, the complex (his)story of Resonance continues…

© Krystyna Dul

Resonance, 2021 © Krystyna Dul

Addressing sexual abuse

Presented this summer at the Casino Luxembourg - Forum d'art contemporain as part of the group exhibition Brave New World Order, Dul’s project #youtoo (2020) draws on interviews she did with a series of people, predominantly women, who had experienced sexual harassment in their lives, ranging from catcalling to sexual assault. The photographer was struck by how many people she knew spoke up about this issue in the wake of #metoo. Though aware that it wasn’t their fault, the interviewees still felt a sense of shame when recalling their stories, illustrating the lasting repercussions of sexual harassment and the stigma attached to it.

© Krystyna Dul

#youtoo, 2020 © Krystyna Dul

The three mute videos on display showed different parts of the interviewees’ bodies – an eye, a mouth, a pair of hands – as they recounted what had happened, making the viewer hone in on their body language. The text projected onto the floor featured excerpts from the interviews, but every time the word “I” occurred the artist replaced it with “you”. This pushed the spectator to put themselves in the shoes of the subjects and engaged them in an act of empathy rather than an act of witnessing. “I wanted to make people reflect on their own experiences,” explains Dul.

The artist also staged a workshop as part of the project where issues around sexual harassment were openly discussed. Raising awareness and questioning gender stereotypes were key aspects of the session. The photographer also spoke about how this subject had been dealt with in artworks and encouraged the participants to find creative ways of challenging conventional views. “It was a very enriching experience,” she observes, “I was amazed by the creativity of the participants.”

Speaking about motherhood

There’s also a more intimate strand of Dul’s work where she turns inwards to investigate her own relationships. The photographer has chronicled her changing relationship with her partner, the process of grieving the loss of her brother and most recently her experience of having a baby. “These are the stories that I know best,” says the artist simply. Yet finding the visual means to document these life events is complex, her projects often spanning several years before reaching fruition. Her ongoing work Becoming (2017-), for example, tracks how Dul and her husband Keven Erickson’s relationship evolves over time. Each year, she makes a selection of photographs taken both by herself and Erickson, yet “filtered through her interpretation”. Down the line, she plans to publish the series as a photo book.

© Krystyna Dul

Becoming IV, 2021 © Krystyna Dul

Dul did present recent images from Becoming at the group show Quick + Dirty in September though. “This is kind of a series within the bigger series,” she notes. “Even before I had the baby I was thinking about iconic images of mothers and children, but couldn’t find the right way to go about it. I didn’t want it to look staged.” It was only when she was breastfeeding herself that she found the visual language she was looking for. “It all happened very naturally. The dim light from a little side lamp gave the pictures a very baroque feel. I suddenly felt like I recognised these images from art history.”

However, Dul doesn’t shy away from showing the lows of motherhood as well. The first photograph of the series is a powerful self-portrait of her in tears, for instance. “I had to capture that moment. The baby blues had just hit me really hard. It felt like it would be the last picture I’d ever take.” The artist speaks about the importance of acknowledging these moments, noting that her friends started sharing similar stories once she broached the subject. “There are so many things people don’t talk about. But everyone goes through the same thing and knowing that makes you feel less alone.”

© Krystyna Dul

Becoming IV, 2021 © Krystyna Dul

When asked why she thinks these issues aren’t openly discussed, she replies that parents have very high expectations to live up to. “You’re expected to say that having a baby is tough, but that you love it. Quite frankly, though, there are moments when you love it and moments when you hate it and saying that out loud opens the door for everybody to acknowledge it.” When asked whether motherhood has influenced her practice at all, Dul laughs that she has to be much more efficient with her photographs, but that people’s stories also move her more than usual at present. “I’ve always been very emotional, but everything feels heightened right now. It just adds another layer to everything,” she concludes.