Knowledge Matters blog

Behind the scenes at the British Library

09 November 2021

Light Night Leeds 2021

What links lanterns from Liverpool, new music from Newcastle, two owls and 26,000 people in Leeds?

It is, of course, the British Library and Light Night Leeds, the city’s annual free multi-arts and light festival. Over two nights in October, tens of thousands of people discovered a treasure trove of artworks inspired by the theme ‘Back to Nature’.

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Part of the Library’s Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photograph: Abbie Jennings.

This is the third year that the British Library has had a presence at Light Night, and following on from 2019’s dockside installation, and the online offering last year, the Library’s Nature at Night installation, in Park Square, was based around a collection of illuminated animal and plant lanterns created by The Lantern Company, including two new owl lanterns inspired by images in our collection.

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Light Night Leeds - British Library Owls - web files-6Two owl lanterns from our Light Night Leeds 2021 installation. Photographs: Abbie Jennings.

Jo Pocock, Artistic Director of Liverpool-based The Lantern Company, says the Nature at Night installation was ‘a celebration and reflection of the beauty and diversity of the natural world we have here in the UK. It holds up a magnifying glass to the complexity and interdependence of our life-sustaining eco-systems, and is a mixture of plants, insects, wildflowers and indigenous creatures.’

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General Reference Collection 74/462*.e.1. (The Birds of Great Britain. John Gould, 1804-1881. London, 1873 [1862-73]). Plate 31 Long eared owl illustration. Plate 28 Barn owl illustration – these plate numbers may vary volume to volume

‘We created two brand new owl lanterns inspired by images from the British Library’s wonderful natural world archives. We chose to depict a barn owl and a long eared owl, as these illustrations were particularly striking. Leeds also has a strong connection to owls and owl imagery is found in much of the architecture across the city, as well as the Leeds coat of arms.’

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The Lantern Company creating the owl lanterns

An accompanying sound piece was specially created by Newcastle-based composer Roma Yagnik. Her composition included over 100 tracks taken from our Environmental and Nature Sounds Archive, which holds more than 250,000 sounds.

‘This was such a dream opportunity - being given access to the sounds of nature from the Library collection allowed me to have a different approach to any I’ve used before and that in itself was very inspiring. A big part of this was listening through the range of field recordings whilst looking at the pictures of the lanterns as they were created by The Lantern Company, alongside illustrations of the owls provided by the Library, to find the characteristics and moods for the piece.’

The Littles excerpt Nature at Night

‘It’s wonderful when our wildlife recordings can be used in creative ways. Some of these sounds will have been recorded for documentary or scientific purposes and so it’s always exciting to see how they can be completely transformed by an artist. I’m so impressed with how Roma has taken the raw sounds and created such a beautiful and engaging piece.’ says Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds

‘Light Night Leeds is such a huge and magical event to be part of,’ adds Roma. ‘I love that the British Library is making their collections available to the public in such creative ways.’

‘It’s exciting to be part of an event that attracts so many different people to come and enjoy art and culture,’ says Kenn Taylor, the Library’s Lead Cultural Producer based in Boston Spa. ‘With over 70% of the Library’s collection held at our Boston Spa site near Wetherby, it’s also a great opportunity for people in Yorkshire to engage with our collections.’

Enjoy our growing programme of workshops, exhibitions and events in Leeds and the surrounding area. Find out what’s coming up by visiting We’d love to see you soon.