Emotional Support Animal by Jon Tjhia
Welcome to Emotional Support Animal, a (potentially interactive) story for one person. To begin with, please pause any audio that might be playing on your device, have your speakers on and warm your hands. This story works best on the Google Chrome browser, and is probably easiest to read on a desktop computer, if you have one.
When the Covid-19 pandemic brought the shutters down on almost all businesses and artistic performances – and kept us largely isolated from one another, in our homes – many performers spoke of how being away from audiences affected them personally, professionally and financially. At the same time, a number of funding agencies and government departments scrambled to support working artists through quick-turnaround grants, with most requiring work to be presented digitally. This offered audiences and artists new creative opportunities and challenges. Now, a year after the pandemic first entered public awareness, most people are sick of screens, and artists are weary of the awkward dislocation of remote spectatorship. The novelty of the novel coronavirus is over.
Applause is a traditionally prominent aspect of live performance, and one of the key signs of a ‘live recording’ too. But what are we really doing when we clap for someone or something? How do other forms of support, like money, stand in for the presence or attention of an audience? And how is applause slowly drifting from the simple physical act of a person – people – clapping? Through a conversational and speculative exchange of messages, I wanted to consider the small and large ways in which we crave to be observed, acknowledged and rewarded.
Jon Tjhia is a radio maker, musician, artist and writer. His essays and stories have most recently been published by Institute of Modern Art, Going Down Swinging, LIMINAL and Avantwhatever, and his radio and sound works have been shown or performed at Manchester Literature Festival, the Barbican, City Gallery Wellington, Sydney Opera House and Arts Centre Melbourne; broadcast on the ABC, BBC, WFMU and CBC; heard on the podcasts Short Cuts, Constellations and The Truth; and written about by The New Yorker, The Wire and The Age.
As the Wheeler Centre’s senior digital editor, he co-founded and published the Australian Audio Guide, as well as award-winning projects including the digital publication Notes, and The Messenger, a podcast. His other collaborations include Paper Radio, a sound-rich literary podcast, and the Manus Recording Project Collective, who produce and present audio recordings made by men held in Australian immigration detention.