The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at

On ‘Second Movement’

As part of Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibition in the main Gallery, Kjartansson conceived a new work for the unique setting of our Lakeside. A mirrored scene of movement and symmetry, Second Movement (2016) sees two women in quintessential Edwardian dress row a boat across the lake, embracing in a never ending kiss – a stark contrast to the surrounding Brutalist architecture.

We talk to one of the Second Movement performers, Emmanuela Lia, about her experiences during the first rehearsal and what Second Movement means to her…


‘When I first applied for the role of an ‘Edwardian girl on a boat’ that the Barbican put out, I thought it was a long shot, not only because I thought my CV wasn’t filled of performance art enough to make me shortlisted but because I thought no English person would ever hire my face for that era. I was completely wrong of course and happily surprised when they did.

The next step was talking to the curator of the exhibition, Leila Hasham, so she could explain what was required and to let her know whether I thought I was capable of it.

A three-hour long kiss between girls in Edwardian clothes, on a boat at the Barbican lake. Is part of Ragnar Kjartansson’s exhibition’.

The image hit my brain like lightning. ‘This is going to be unique!’


‘Helena Bonham Carter’ – Ragnar Kjartansson’s early sketch of his vision for the performance

I was called in for a rehearsal, costume fitting and make up all on the same day. I was also going to meet my fellow actor and Ragnar Kjartansson himself.

It was a very busy day for everyone so, more than one thing was happening at the same time. Ragnar Kjartansson entered the room and played to us (on his phone) the Second Movement of Mozart’s Concerto 21 which inspired him to give the performance the same title. There was absolutely no time to talk about anything other than the exhibition and the performance. When we were both ready, Ragnar and his wife Ingibjorg (also an artist) stepped into the boat and performed a short sequence Ragnar had come up with for the three-hour long show. We were then taken to the lake, sailed to the middle of it and…kissed.

All we knew about each other at that point was our names and that we were both actors…

Sexual orientation, politics, social status, race, none of that mattered. We just kissed.

I still don’t know these things about my fellow actor and to be honest… it doesn’t matter.

Because for three hours, twice a week, our performance and Ragnar’s art make the people who visit the exhibition react. Either by finding it captivating to watch or by heckling. I find heckling (in particular) invigorating as it usually sparks a conversation between people who also know nothing about each other and yet there they are, talking!


And that’s not the only thing.

What happened on that boat on the first day of rehearsals, was more than a kiss between two people of the same gender, it was more ‘shocking’ than that.
It was a kiss between two girls that under different circumstances, not only that would never happen, but our meeting could have turned into an argument about politics or race or sexuality. Our meeting and eventually acceptance (or refusal) of one another would have been filtered through a hundred of -what now seem irrelevant- things that would get in the way of truly getting to know each other as human beings first.

What I’m trying to say is that if we decide to leave our presumptions on the side for one second and act first, I’d like to believe, that we’re bound to act from a place of empathy. And that goes a long way.’

Second Movement is performed on the Barbican Lakeside on Saturday and Sunday from 1-4pm (weather permitting).

Ragnar Kjartansson takes place in the Art Gallery until Sunday 4 September.