On the monitor atop a pedestal at Black & White Projects, a woman in a white shoulder-padded blazer hosts an American Bandstand-style dance show called Klub Rupturre!!
“Deep beneath the earth here in California, we’re ready to get things shaking with another exciting tectonic episode of our never-ending party,” she says into her mic. Behind her, dancers in black and white outfits gyrate against a set decorated in jagged colors and patterns. The image is slightly disintegrated, as if reception is coming in spottily on an old CRT monitor. It’s almost believable as a relic from another era, possibly dubbed off of a station like KOFY-TV in the late 1980s.
But then here, at this artist-run gallery inside San Francisco’s Pacific Felt Factory, and now, in the present day, the host’s words sink in. Deep beneath the earth? “On today’s show, we’ll be bringing you a top ten countdown for what is sure to be the BEST earthquake of 1989,” she continues. Lisa Stansfield’s “All Around the World” begins to play, and the camera pans to capture the dancers’ era-appropriate moves.
As you’ve likely deduced, there is no actual place called Klub Rupturre!!, and the host (artist Jenifer Wofford) isn’t an actual Dick Clark-type personality, though her delivery is hammy and wonderfully winking. Wofford’s installation, on view through Oct. 26, nods to the lo-fi TV-20 show Dance Party, using the vehicle of the regional dance show to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Through its somewhat discordant lens, it slyly looks back at the massive economic, social and physical shifts left in its wake, sneaking in a few messages about emergency preparedness along the way.
Wofford was a teenager in 1989, living with her parents in Walnut Creek. She didn’t actually feel the quake—she was driving back from visiting friends at Cal Poly when the 6.9-magnitude tremblor hit. But she did witness its aftermath. “In my personal mythology,” she says, “this was the most dramatic violent moment of forced change.”
Today she’s an artist and educator, and her practice spans a variety of media. She makes paintings, videos, performative installations, digital drawings of pivotal moments in pop culture, and for over two decades she’s been one third of the Filipina-American collaborative trio Mail Order Brides (or M.O.B.).
Wofford first found herself drawn to the 1989 earthquake as an artistic focus in 2014, as the Bay Area readied itself to mark the event’s 25th anniversary. Right around the same time, her sister became a San Francisco firefighter. Newly aware of the intricacies of emergency management—and just how thinly stretched our emergency services will be when a similarly large disaster occurs—Wofford was inspired to become NERT (Neighborhood Emergency Response Team) certified and start spreading the gospel of self-sufficient preparedness.
“I’m not going to be running into a burning building and saving lives, but I started looking at ways in which, as an artist, I could be put to some kind of purpose,” she says.
Something she could do, she realized, was remind younger generations and new Bay Area residents just how destabilizing and destructive earthquakes can be. In the web-based project Earthquake Weather, currently on view as part of the Chinese Culture Center’s Task of Remembrance exhibition, she gathered stories from people who remembered the quake, illustrating selections in her clean, graphic-novel style. The collection captures the vast array of experiences in 1989: a kid excited to eat melting ice cream when the power was out in Santa Cruz, a news anchor who worked through the night to share facts with her viewers, a man who abandoned his car on the Bay Bridge.
In the years since 2014, Wofford’s come to think of the earthquake as so much more than a historic moment in Bay Area history. 1989 was a year of global shifts—Tiananmen Square, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, the beginning of the end of apartheid in South Africa—and the Loma Prieta earthquake was a local manifestation of those sweeping changes.
In Klub Rupturre!!, Wofford touches on those changes in her countdown introductions, each one coming off as a prescient, pithy spiel. For Babyface’s “It’s No Crime,” at No. 6, she presages the dot-com boom about to take over the Bay Area: “A tune that will pump in a whole lot of cash and very few consequences not long after this quake tears things apart. Can we give it up for globalization and neoliberal capitalism?”
Other intros broach subjects of multiculturalism, the steady stream of longtime Bay Area residents leaving the region, and the communities that came together in the wake of the disaster. The countdown ends with “Super Seismic,” a song written and recorded specifically for Klub Rupturre!! in the popular style of 1989: new jack swing. (The lyrics nod to a well-known Silicon Valley motto that takes on new meaning in the context of the quake: “M.O.V.E. FAST! B.R.E.A.K. THINGS!”) In the middle of the song, a 15-second siren (the length of the Loma Prieta quake) interrupts the synth beat—and the dancers’ renditions of the Roger Rabbit and Running Man.
It’s clear Wofford and her dancers, choreographed by Kim Acebo Arteche, are having a lot of fun. And that feeling is contagious when visiting Black & White Projects, where colored lights swirl around the same frenetic backdrop and turn it into an enticing dancefloor. But the underlying messages are dead serious. “On the most pragmatic level, I don’t care if they hold the history sacred. I just want them to be aware that emergency preparedness is real,” Wofford says of her audience.
“This isn’t a fake crazy dance party, this is a very real thing that happens all the time.”
'Klub Rupturre!!' is on view at Black & White Projects through Oct. 26. The show hosts an actual TV dance party (which will also be live-streamed) on Thursday, Oct. 17, 7–10pm, on the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. Details here.