In the romantic comedy L.A. Story from 1991, an empathetic billboard on an urban freeway communicates with the film's main character, a hapless weatherman, giving him the right advice just when he needs it. The miracle of written words with a life of their own, exaggerated for comic effect, corresponds perfectly with the large white letters in the Hollywood Hills above Los Angeles, home to the "dream factory", whose symbolic force has long transformed them from a simple sign to a monument.
Indeed, the towering billboards and facades with gaudy signs are particularly striking in Los Angeles: they provide guidance and orientation, as it were, in this otherwise extremely flat city. Maybe it was this enticing abundance of signs in a metropolis without much history like Los Angeles that tempted Judith Ammann to train her camera lens on this urban space. Her intense relationship with the Californian megacity goes back a long way: she first came here on a six-month scholarship in 1999 as an artist in residence. During this time, she made numerous excursions to often deserted, peripheral areas of town, appropriating the architectural space of L.A. with its constructional excesses and other curiosities. Her photographs show largely painted or tiled facades, neatly trimmed box trees, and again and again letters and fragments of words.
In her photography, Ammann uses her camera as a relentless "fragmentation machine", tearing individual motifs out of the spatial fabric, gutting these testimonies of urbanity and anonymizing them, without making any specific reference to their original meaning and purpose. Words like "Liquor", "Bowl" or "Pound Penny" drift like flotsam through her vibrant pictures, forming a bunch of clues that, at the end of the process, have managed to find their way through the fine meshes of the artist's net. The viewer searches in vain for points of reference such as proportions, context or topographical location. Instead, Ammann shifts her attention to the form, color and structure of her subjects, breathing new aesthetic life into the objects she has found on her excursions. By focusing on these witnesses of modern civilization, she becomes a photographic reinterpreter of signs, so to speak – an approach which may be just the right "antidote" for Los Angeles, certainly the most potent production site for visual phantasmagoria.
born in the Canton of Lucerne, Switzerland
studies Graphic Design at the Lucerne School of Design
studies in Film and New Media in Frankfurt and Offenbach am Main, Germany
lives in Frankfurt am Main