Artist uses clothing labels to create works of art

A fascination for textiles, textures and where they were made is what motivated Quebec artist Josette Villeneuve to collect labels off used clothing. The works she created from these mundane sources, however, are anything but commonplace. Full of colour, symbolism and imagination, "Un monde à raccommoder" or "A World in Need of Mending" is currently on view at the Glendon Gallery.

“I discovered an interest in clothing labels in 2003,” says Villeneuve. “Their textures and exotic origins seduced me and filled me with questions about their geographic and social context. Where were they made, by whom, under what conditions?” Since each label says where it was made, collecting them was a means of virtual travelling and understanding the impact of globalization. 

Right: The Blue Cloud-Flag with artist Josette Villeneuve (left) and Martine Rheault, coordinator of artistic & cultural affairs at the Glendon Gallery

Initially, Villeneuve collected by sorting through unwanted, unsaleable items at used-clothing depots, personally removing each label. Eventually, places like the Salvation Army and other collection sites started setting bags of clothing aside for her and occasionally even removed labels they thought would interest her. “The more I collected, the more I wanted,” she says.

Her first desire was to produce a really large work – a map of the world, stitched together from tiny pieces that came from every corner of the globe. The exhibit includes this seminal piece, a nine-foot by 17-foot work in which each tiny piece has been pinned individually to the backdrop, along with 14 additional creations. The map of the world dominates the current exhibition, directly opposite the entrance to the gallery. There are also flags of India, Vietnam and Canada on display.

Left: Gallery goers at the opening of Villeneuve’s "A World in Need of Mending" exhibit

Villeneuve started with representative items such as maps and flags of different countries, but her impish sense of fun took over and she created an American flag which contained Cuban and Thai labels from products which would never have found their way to American stores. Then with a wink to neo-Dadaist American artist Jasper Johns, whose best-known works include flags and maps playfully reconstructed with unorthodox colours and characteristics, Villeneuve’s flags gradually took on new features as well.

“I realized that when you look at real flags on display, what you also see is the sky and the clouds above. So, I decided to incorporate these into my works. After all, a creative artist can do anything,” says Villeneuve. In fact, she considers clouds as a metaphor for continued transformation, a cyclical change much like what happens within the world’s population.

Above: The flags of Canada and Vietnam by artist Josette Villeneuve


Through her fascination with clouds, Villeneuve has created a series of cloud-flags – flags that started out as accurate representations of the official ones, but which were transformed into cloud shapes with details such as stars or stripes in other colours than the official ones. This is the first time the combination of maps, flags and cloud-flags have been shown together.

“We are confronted with a veritable melting pot of origins, where ‘Made in Bangladesh’ rubs elbows with a large array of other provenances,” says curator Marc Audette. “Josette Villeneuve’s flags open the discussion on questions of identity within our societies, which are undergoing constant change as a result of globalization. These flags also resonate in worrisome ways with the current geopolitical reality of continuous periods of conflict in the world.”

Above: Josette Villeneuve in front of her piece, A Map of the World

"A World in Need of Mending" is at the Glendon Gallery until March 27. The next exhibit at the gallery will display the work of Stephanie Reynolds, a master of fine arts student at York, from April 18 to April 30. For details and gallery hours, visit the Glendon Gallery Web site. 

More about Josette Villeneuve

Born in Shawinigan, Quebec, Villeneuve holds a BFA in visual arts from the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières. She has participated in close to 20 solo and group exhibitions and her work is part of numerous collections, including those of the Musée d’art Contemporain de Baie-Saint-Paul; Loto-Québec; the National Library of Canada; Musée d’art de Saint-Hilaire; and the City of Trois-Rivières. In 2006, she was the recipient of a scholarship from Loto-Québec and also won the Audace Télé-Québec award from the Conseil de la Culture de la Mauricie. In November 2008, Villeneuve won the Prix de la création artistique du CALQ for the region of Mauricie, in Quebec.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny