Interview with Jessica Findley, Aeolian Ride's Founder

Interview with Jessica Findley, Aeolian Ride’s Founder

Jessica Findley is the brainchild of the Aeolian Ride, a cycling project that blurs the line between spectator and participant.

Jessica Findley lives in Brooklyn, where she works as a “freelance designer, illustrator and animator.” This brief description hardly encompasses all of Jessica’s many activities and talents: she makes animated movies and reversible dolls; she draws and sews; she is a web designer and an artist whose work has been shown at the New Museum (New York), the Issue Project Room (New York) and the Dublin Museum of Science. Her work takes her far beyond traditional venues for art, however: Findley also organizes performances and interactive installations around the world.

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Jessica Findley and I am the artist behind the world traveling inflatable bike ride, Aeolian Ride. I am an artist because of love and I make my living as a designer. Sometimes these two things merge into one.

On your website there is a section entitled “Work” and another is “Art”. What is your art for if it is not for work? Is it just a question of what pays the rent? Are you happy with that equilibrium or would you rather focus only on the art?

This is always a difficult challenge. In a dream world it would be great to focus on the art all the time, but a girl needs to eat. It is also nice not to have to think of the monetary value of my art when I make it. I would love to have less work and do more art. Or at least do more interesting work while I do more art. I have been very happy doing illustrations and work for museums and educational programs. It would be great to take a break and just focus on the art for a while, then go work, then do art. For now it seems that both art and work need to be in a constant process.

Do you have something against cars?

Cars are pretty useful but they do not compare to the elegance of sustainable design that a bicycle has. Our planet-our future-is in immediate peril. Just imagine if the cars (and all designs in general) in use today could be as energy efficient as a bicycle and provide the element of health, joy and wellbeing that a bicycle does!

Tell us how the Aeolian Ride project was born. Do you have an interesting story about it?

There are several events that brought the Aeolian Ride into being. I had already collaborated on an art project called FRONT with the Millefiore Effect-we made voice-activated inflatable conflict suits-where the spectator is also invited to become a performer. This opened up my concept of art and performance and changed it forever. I was commuting to work on my bike with a weird windbreaker on wondering what it might look like flapping around behind me. I forgot about this idea until a friend later asked me for project ideas for Burning Man. I had never been there but I knew they had a lot of bikes laying around. I essentially told him my idea for the Aeolian Ride. He thought it was great but built a giant octopus instead. Again, I forgot about the ride. A year later, the twin towers had fallen and I had lost my job and was feeling depressed when the same friend called me just to tell me I had to do the Aeolian Ride idea.
I spent three months, $3000 on materials and tools making the first prototypes and suits. I lost my mind a little when sewing 50 suits. Later, I received a couple of grants that covered the expenses. When I tested the ride, but only two of the ten friends I asked to help showed up so I was worried the ride wouldn’t have enough people. The day of the ride we had more than 50 people-all by word of mouth. We didn’t have permission-this was before the Republican National Convention made it really hard on bikes. It was funny because my dad was there and he charmed the cops that showed up with his fatherly enthusiasm. We went to lower Manhattan-to bring senseless joy to a place that had experienced senseless pain. I have been doing the rides ever since then in cities around the world.

Who designed the Aeolian suits?

That would be me. I had some friends who tested them and who helped me transfer my ideas to paper patterns, but I designed and sewed all of them.

What are the positive/negative things about NY, where the Aeolian Ride is based?

Riding in the city can be very fun and fast and saves you money-there is a growing love for bikes here and the bike lanes just seem to multiply. There was a race between a person on a bike, a taxi, and a woman on a bike from lower Manhattan to Upper Manhattan and the woman on the bike won. I love that. The car pollution is pretty gross, and the risk of getting killed is there-the ghost bikes (bikes painted white) remind me to wear my helmet and not get careless. I have had two friends fall without their helmets and it has changed who they are mentally. I am pro-helmet. It was kind of a nice coincidence that you can’t wear an Aeolian Ride costume without a helmet. It just doesn’t work.

Do you have any interesting story about the countries/cities you’ve visited in the Aeolian Rides?

I find that riding a bike in a city is such a wonderful way to get to know its landscape. The people are what make the place for me. It’s interesting who comes to the ride. It often depends on the contact who brought me to the city. It’s usually a combination of different cycling cultures, everyday cyclists, commuters, advocates, artists, messengers… anyone with a bike is welcome! I am always looking for people willing to organize and find funding to bring the ride to their city. I call these people champions. Each ride has had great champions who made it happen. The responses vary from city to city. New York was the first ride, it was rainy so I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen and I didn’t have a permit so I was nervous when the cops showed up. As I said, my dad was there and when he gave the cops a couple of Aeolian buttons and told them about how excited he was for his daughter’s art project, they left. I worked with Bike Summer’s Dave Benoff to bring the Aeolian Ride to LA. That was our first night ride with lights in the suits and we had a magical moment where mostly just the riders got to see the effect of the lights. During our ride through the bright city, most of us didn’t notice or remember we were wearing lights inside the suits. When we arrived at the dark park all the riders softly gasped and oohed at the forgotten surprise-they were glowing. Halifax was wonderful, my contact, a great photographer by the name of Francesca Tallone, is very involved in the arts there. It was great fun and there was tons of enthusiasm for the ride. The Aeolian Poster was on the cover of their local weekly paper! The waterfront there is magical. I never expected that I would get to experience the bike cultures of the world – it’s really great and diverse. I have a special place in my heart for the enthusiasm for the growing bike culture in Lisbon. Lisbon looks and feels like the beautiful grandmother of San Francisco with the gorgeous buildings on steep hills bathed in rays of sunlight. When I was there, they got excited to see other people biking, or another bike locked to theirs. I am excited to see how that culture grows.

How can someone join the next ride?

There are two ways to join the ride. You can sign up online for news of the next ride: or invite me to your city /

How do you choose the city for the next Aeolian Ride?

I am either invited or I am already living in that city-or I have a contact there.

What was the difficulty that, in the end, helped strengthen the group the most?

Sometimes I lose momentum to keep this project going-but it is a project that requires life to exist and it has a life of its own. When I see the joy that comes out of each ride I get my momentum right back. The Kids Ride was really something special-I see that starting a whole new movement.

How does your group contribute to society?

The Aeolian Ride creates a feedback loop of joy for those riding and those watching. It allows people to play and be silly. It turns a normal street into a place where art can happen at any time and you can be that art.

How does the group fund its activities?

The Aeolian Ride is supported by the organizations who host the ride or individuals who fundraise to bring me to their city. It’s for the people and by the people.

Can you imagine where your group will be five years from now?

I think I will keep doing this for as long as it wants to keep happening. I found a way to make joy contagious. I heard a great interview with Bobby Mcferrin the other day. He said “I feel like that I’ve been entrusted with a talent; it’s my job to take care of it, to do my best, to give the audience my best. And by best, it means I’m myself; I’m as close to myself as possible. I’m as close to my genuine self.” I think and know it will evolve-starting with the kids’ rides.

Design, animation, illustration, interactive installation… You seem to jump effortlessly and with talent from one medium to the other. Is there anything you are bad at?

My strength is definitely my weakness. I love learning new skills and working in different mediums, but sometimes this can be fragmenting. I really envy people who know exactly what they want and have a path to get there. I chose this path, to explore, and it can be really challenging not to lose sight of what I really want. I try to follow my heart and eat my dessert first.

And more seriously, what do you find rewarding about each of these mediums?

The idea come first and then the materials and medium come second but they definitely inform each other. Every medium provides me with a way to explore my ideas in different ways.