Artist opinion: Jemma Freeman on 2020

Artist Jemma Freeman of Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something, writes about their year and calls for change.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something - photo by Jon Mo

“Netflix, a phone, my guitars”

I feel like I’ve spent nearly a year ordering things online having to be deliberate. No more fooling myself that browsing the shelves is some sort of natural felicitous activity. The bare bones of capitalism exposed. I want, I get. This year it’s been so clearly at the expense of those who are the worst off. I’m not going to pretend that I made entirely ethical choices or that I didn’t use Amazon when I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to get non dairy milk from the corner-shop. Being able to be both critical and hypocritical carries its only distinctly sickly privilege.

People on furlough rushing out and clearing the supermarkets of flour because they couldn’t think of anything to do in the houses they work all day to pay for and finally got time to spend in them seemed weird to me. I worked throughout, from home in my administrative role for a university.

My entire life became one room in a shared house with people I never ever intended to spend 23 hours a day with. I am Autistic, get overwhelmed by social interaction, I bought a kettle for my room and lived on packet noodles, jerky and coffee so that I didn’t have to have a conversation every single time I went into the kitchen. I became an expert at identifying the creaks of the stairs and what each person’s door sounded like when it closed so that I could use the toilet without risk of an interaction. I still view myself as incredibly lucky - I am terrified of covid I could avoid it as much as I was prepared to do so and did. I have Netflix, a phone, my guitars and pretty much the entire world available for me to order online.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something - photo by Terry Tyldesley

The disparity of concerns between the rich and poor became an obsession that I had no control over. I donated where I could, I cringed every time our middle class neighbours stood outside and clapped for the NHS after seeing countless deliveries of gym equipment, televisions and garden furniture arrive at their doors as I sat at my desk. We had a nurse living with us who it galled, just pay for the correct PPE so they don’t die and whilst you’re at it pay them correctly. Have we all conveniently forgotten they reduced the PPE specifications to adapt to a completely inadequate supply line rather than adapt to the risk of life to the nurses.

School WhatsApp groups of rich parents despairing that their children were bored in their huge manicured gardens with trampolines and giant sit on toys whilst single parents needed a footballer to advocate for them for access to basic food and drinks for theirs.

Radio items about surges in sales of extortionately priced pianos, eloquent interviewees telling us how the beauty and depth of sound of their £36,000 instrument brought tears to their eyes whilst there are people still sleeping on the street in the midst of a global pandemic. I can’t make any of it make sense and I am flooded. These things were always there but now all the filters have been removed.

So what is my slightly maudlin, self deprecating rant about, what is it I want? I feel exhausted thinking about what I want. I don’t even have the energy to want to go onstage anymore. I’ve had to put that thought to sleep because it is delusional currently. I’ve switched off wanting to see friends because it’s illogical right now. There are bigger fish to fry.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something- photo by Terry Tyldesley

So after some shallow deliberation, here is what I would like for Christmas: I would like to remove the status and power that so inevitably comes with those who have wealth. I would like to remove their condescending, patronising ability to control the world around them to their will. I would like their money to not be the biggest voice in the room.

I would like everyone to have a universal basic income, I would like everyone to be afforded the choice to make meaningful decisions about the content of their life. It shouldn’t just be the middle class people that flood our Instagram with their privilege, wild swimming, self improving projects, culturally appropriated yoga classes and writing retreats behaving as if it’s a choice available to all if only they had the initiative. I want to make nepotism illegal. I want to expose all those that masquerade as being successful when it’s purely the result of their parents’ inherited social capital and wealth. Step aside and give someone else a chance.

I want the idea of working hard and then you make it in life re-examined, you won’t become a virtuoso violinist by not practising but neither will you if the only way you could ever buy a violin is by slogging every hour away in Sainsbury’s.

I would like everyone to be given the freedom of their own time, the terror of destitution shackling us to meaningless jobs removed. I would like everyone to be given a chance.

Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something - photo by Terry Tyldesley