On location: Natasha Kerr

Her work forms the poster image for Quilts 1700-2010 and the subject of its trailer. In this film Natasha Kerr talks about her work and the preoccupations that underlie it

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Video Transcript

I suppose, looking back, starting the work was actually about a cathartic experience, and it was about laying the family to rest, as it were.

What had happened in my degree show, which was a few years before this, is I’d been working on antique linen bed sheets, which is still the fabric I work on now. My background as an artist is that I trained in textiles – I trained in fashion textiles, and when I left college I worked as a freelance textile designer. And after that what happened was, my mother, when I was about twenty-four/ twenty-five, she gave me a whole series of very small little albums of photographs. And it showed a lot of the family in Germany, and it was things that I had never seen before. All these photographs had been in plastic bags in the bottom of a cupboard in my grandma’s side of the house.

The photograph album gave me the opportunity to go back into exploring imagery, and what imagery actually meant. And what I was trying to do initially was to take away the whole idea of the romanticism of a sepia photograph, because I actually write stories that go with the photograph, and it started out by being image text, and it still is really.

This is probably one of the last pieces that I will create using my family, and it depicts my great grandmother and my grandfather lying in the back garden of their house. It spoke to me for a lot of reasons. I love the fact that it is not a posed photograph. So many of the images I’ve used are posed. It’s just a snapshot taken by somebody, at the end of the day where everybody’s exhausted from a hard day’s work. My grandmother’s probably been doing all the cooking and cleaning, at home, and my grandfather was a surgeon in a hospital, and a doctor as well. And normally he’d be surrounded by books, and he’s not. So, it’s a summery day in the northwest of England on the Wirral. And there’s somebody missing from the chair, which could represent the missing members of the family who aren’t in the country, people who’ve died. So for me it’s quite a poignant image and it’s called At the end of the day.

When I’d finished it, it did remind of a Union Jack and I actually thought it was very fitting because it looks like a flag, but it’s not a Union Jack. It’s not a flag of anywhere, it’s not representative of anywhere, but it looks strangely familiar. Like the garden looks strangely familiar, but it could be anybody’s garden.

What I discovered was that galleries wanted to show the work, but also some people, though they liked the work, they didn’t actually want to buy my family, they actually wanted to buy their own family, so they wanted me to incorporate their stories and their imagery into what I do.

This is a commission that I’m working on, and this is kind of the beginnings of what I start off with when I trying to work out the story. And it’s all about her father who was a Ghurkha in the Second World War, or Ghurkha Officer, and he mapped India and he mapped Burma. It starts off with where he grew up, which was up here, and the work will generally go around in a circle, so you can follow it round, and this obviously isn’t what the piece will look like when it’s finished, this is just what I’ve got to get in somehow.  So that’s his old school tie that somehow will be incorporated into the work, which she’s managed to find, and then I’ve gone through hundreds of diaries and scrap books that he’s made at his time during the war. It’s fascinating, because it’s a real insight into a life, and they’re interesting lives and I mean I didn’t know anything about the war in Burma.

I think what people now want is something that’s more about them, and more that they can relate to, and that is what quilts are about. The whole narrative that goes around it: who might have owned the object, where it may have been, whether its somebody illustriously rich or if it’s somebody without a tuppence halfpenny to rub together. They’re all fascinating stories and they’re all about social history as much as they are about the object itself, and all of those things are things I love.


Natasha Kerr's 'At the end of the day' has all the intriguing intimacy that makes  quilts fascinating.  But this haunting artwork isn't actually a quilt at all


Filmed in her Hackney studio in  this film Natasha Kerr reveals how her mother's casual gifit of a box of family photographs led to her reinventing herself as a unique kind of biographical textile artist. Kerr now creates mixed media works on fine linen bedsheets involving painting, sewing, found photographs and other ephemera. Her art explores the power of memory and personal history to create extraordinary modern family heirlooms.