Wordless Books


Jeannie Baker

This beautiful and thought-provoking wordless book from the early 1990s depicts the destructive impact of human life on the natural world. In addition to the cover, the 13 images, each shown as a double-page spread, follow the life of a boy called Sam in two-yearly intervals from his birth to the birth of his own child 24 years later. Through Sam’s bedroom window, the reader observes the gradual transformation of the world outside his home, which changes from a peaceful, bio-diverse, wild landscape into a cluttered ‘noisy’ urban cityscape.

Created by Jeannie Baker, a British artist living in Australia, together with the help of biologist and environmental consultant Haydn Washington, this book has a clear ecological message. And it ends with a call to action to the reader to take care of the planet we all share and to realise that ‘by understanding and changing the way we personally affect the environment, we can make a difference’.

Window spread

Each image is a stand-alone artwork, a 3D collage construction made from a wide variety of materials including corrugated paper, string, wool and fabric, as well as many natural materials such as leaves, bark, grasses and twigs, which the artist preserves in a mixture of special chemicals. Like Charles Keeping in Inter-City, Baker uses the framing device of a window – in this case though, rather than a train window, it is the upstairs window of a house. Through this frame, Baker contrasts interior with exterior (though, unlike Keeping, she focuses primarily on the exterior) and rural with urban.

In each picture there is a wealth of detail to spot that strengthens and enhances the ecological theme. As the verdant fecundity of the opening spread begins to alter, we witness the clearing of land for houses, the introduction of fences and the reduction in plant species. The wildlife gradually switches from diverse indigenous species, such as kangaroos, reptiles, birds and insects, to imported domesticated creatures, such as horses, dogs, rabbits – and particularly those notorious hunters of birds, cats. Man-made objects such as buildings, roads and vehicles proliferate, and the concept of consumerism is conveyed through smaller images including a McDonalds chip box and a Coke sign. The texts of the many hoardings appear to shout insistently ‘Buy me’.

Window spread

The passage of time is marked in various ways – by the birthday cards we see appearing on the windowsill, by the changing toys (including dinosaurs, a reminder of ancient time) and hobbies of the protagonist, and by the relentless transformation of the landscape. In the final spread we see a new unspoilt view from a different house; but this fails to provide much comfort, as there is a suggestion that the whole cycle of destruction is about to repeat itself. Man, Baker suggested 26 years ago, needs to take action if any wild areas at all are to survive for our children.

Window has a companion wordless volume Belonging, which has a more positive message about ‘greening’ the city. Jeannie Baker has also created other, texted, picturebooks and a couple of award-winning short films. Her artworks can be seen in galleries across the world and currently she has an exhibition touring Australia until May 2018. Her concern about green issues is as valid today as it was in 1991.