This week, valley fever haunts the cast of a film, a painter stains the carpet and an artist learns to backflip.
Perhaps because wall-to-wall carpeting only became widely accessible in the 1950s, and because it’s associated with a now bittersweet version of the postwar domestic dream, there’s something particularly stomach-churning about badly-stained carpet. Brook Hsu used a carpet square as a canvas for Dog Smoker, one of the works that appears in the group show “Hobson-Jobson” at BBQLA. An angry dog head, painted with black and white acrylic, angles across the dyed carpeting, looking like a tag left behind on the floor of a vandalized suburban split-level. 2315 Jesse St., Boyle Heights; through March 18. bbqla.net.
A “mysterious smile” comes across the face of Rose of Sharon, who has just given birth to a stillborn child, when she nurses a starving man in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. A stand-in for Rose nurses a gaunt, dirty man in the film at the center of “Geomancies,” Miljohn Ruperto’s exhibition at RedCat. Ruperto collaborated on the film, Ordinal (SW/NE), with director Rini Yun Keagy, and it's set around Bakersfield where valley fever, a disease that plagued migrants during the Dust Bowl, has resurfaced. The film has a hypnotic rhythm, and a narrative that’s both mundane and ominous. The protagonist moves through daily life — attends university, calls the mother of his infant child, goes for a swim — yet you understand that both he and his child are sick. By the end, after we’ve cut to the romantic nursing scene and then back to the normal-looking Central Valley, we hear a voicemail left for the protagonist: The child’s mother has contracted the fever, too. Illness seeps through everything. 631 W. Second St., downtown. (213) 237-2800, redcat.org.
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Great balls of fire
The sunset is loosely the subject matter of Sadie Benning’s “Blinded by the Light,” at Susanne Vielmetter. Benning, who puts her paintings together like puzzles (literally, piecing together specially made and painted resin shapes), often makes subtle, reserved-looking work. Not so this time. Certain paintings have the palette and buoyancy of children’s drawings of trees, monsters or explosions. It’s hard to tell whether the work is optimistic or apocalyptic, and that fuzziness compels. 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City; through April 7. (310) 837-2117, vielmetter.com.
Judith Bernstein’s exhibition at the Box is titled after the first drawing you see upon entering the space: “Cock in the Box.” It shows a cartoonish cock emerging from a red, white and blue box. “America’s Number 1 Toy,” the artist scrawled across this drawing when she made it in 1966. Cocks, cunts and screws have been Bernstein’s subject matter for half a century, and they appear in this exhibition in all their irreverent glory: Eight screws appear to be spinning in a charcoal-on-paper drawing from 1968. But it is the abstractions that steal this show, their open-endedness maybe fuller and richer because it’s in contrast to Bernstein’s explicitness. One big circular canvas has an imperfect black circle at its center — Circle Screw this is called, though it’s screwishness is inexplicit. On the opposite wall hang the Anthuriums, paintings made in the 1980s and named after the flower that they vaguely resemble. Each differently colored composition combines round shapes with angles, and could be a poetically blurry detail of a fabulously clad, fleshy limb captured in motion. 805 Traction Ave., downtown; through March 18. (213) 625-1747, theboxla.com.
Fight against entropy
The project New Trick took artist Jennifer Dalton a year of weekly rehearsals. She had been told that anyone could learn to do a backflip, so she set out to try, filming each training session and always hanging shimmering, theatrical curtains behind her as she worked. In “Participation Trophy,” her current show at Charlie James Gallery, the same curtains hang behind two monitors that show Dalton working toward her goal, and also track her age, height, weight and how much this new trick and the documentation of it is costing her (by June 2014, it had cost $1,921.44). Yellow text running along the bottom of the screen explains that she started to feel more hopeful as soon as she started training, “as if I were more active in my fight against entropy.” The tensions between hopefulness, anxiety, proactivity and paralysis are present throughout the exhibition. In fact, visitors can write their own hopes and fears on colored paper and anonymously add them to a plexiglas box near the gallery entrance — these contributions will become source material for Dalton’s future work. 969 Chung King Road. Chinatown; through April 1. (213) 687-0844, cjamesgallery.com.