“What is being described here is in fact a machine,” Roland Barthes wrote of the Marquis de Sade’s pornographic scenarios, “ . . . a meticulous clockwork, whose function is to connect the sexual discharges.” While there is little if any, sex in Jess Johnson’s meticulous drawings, rendered in pen, marker, and gouache on paper, there’s more than a hint of the structuralist Sade in her unindividuated, compliant nudes, which function as fungible units in a fabulous and brutal visual grammar. Divested of sexual or psychological characteristics, they are arranged in esoteric diagrams in complex, multiplanar spaces teeming with crypto-Masonic symbols, arcade colors, and tessellated surfaces. Often, these dumb, desubjectivized bodies perform rites of supplication to various animal-headed gods and giant insects.
Born in 1979 in Tauranga, New Zealand, Johnson (now based in New York) is a
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