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Last week, Gallery Maskara in Mumbai had an unusual installation even by its own standards. Over the years, the gallery has transformed itself to suit its artists’ works—once, during a memorable Shine Shivan show, it carried a disclaimer asking for viewer discretion. This time, it brought the moon down.

Narendra Yadav, who works in the advertising field and turned artist a decade ago, created a convex cement surface, 26.5ft in diameter, in the centre of the gallery. A projector on the ceiling relayed an image of the moon captured live through a 1,300mm lens placed on the terrace of the building across the road. Yadav may not call the mechanics of his ambitious installation, art; the bespectacled 50-year-old prefers to locate his works in the domain of the conceptual. Yet it is difficult not to observe the attention to detail in the manually operated contraption, with its twin axes on which the camera captures the moon as it moves across the darkening city.

The first day that the installation, My Lunatic Instinct, opened to the public, a group of 20 schoolchildren crowded the door of the gallery. Soon, they walked on the convex surface with the moon over it, craters and rabbit included.

Yadav’s first exhibition, in 2006, was inspired by Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, an early 20th century scientist best known for his experiment on classical conditioning. Titled Labour: Installations By Narendra Yadav, it contained some fascinating works like Stress Release Toys For Instant Justice. Using wood and fibreglass, the work depicted a statue toppling from a podium with the help of a simple lever mechanism. It brought back memories of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s statue being torn down from its marble plinth on Firdaus Square in Baghdad in 2003. The work was interactive: Viewers could move the lever attached to the plinth to watch the statue topple.

In 2011, he made a video work using smaller-scale models, which was screened at a collateral event of the 54th Venice Biennale. In it, people were shown placing stickers of faces from a booklet on to the models, presumably of authority figures they wanted to “take down". They then proceeded to cut them in half, drown them or topple them from a plinth. Yadav says he was inspired by the previous year’s Arab Spring, during which mass uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, among other nations in West Asia and north Africa, decisively challenged dictatorship. Sounds from YouTube videos uploaded by protesters formed the background score to this video art. Yadav also referenced the advertising industry by making his work resemble a home shopping network advertisement.

Yadav graduated in fine arts from Mumbai’s JJ School of Art in 1987, but joined an advertising firm soon after. There was little money in art and Yadav, the elder of two siblings, had to support his family. Ironically, he began creating works of art shortly before the market for contemporary art, including video and new media works, crashed due to the economic slowdown in 2007-08. This time around, the lack of money didn’t bother Yadav, who is group creative director at Lowe Lintas.

“The live moon installation is quite an ambitious project. It took a lot of money and time to stay with it," Yadav agrees. “When I entered (the art field), the bubble was beginning to burst. My resolve to create art became stronger. Had I created the same works with the art market (intact), I would not have been able to distinguish if I was creating art for the marketplace or for myself. Now I know," he laughs, adding quickly that one mustn’t assume that art production is a black or white situation. “The advertising job supports me and gives me the liberty to do what I want," he says.

“No creative person is happy with the sameness that comes (with a day job). I don’t blame the advertising industry; it’s a business at the end of the day. I respect the space of an artist, you have the liberty of going about it in your way. There is no client saying, ‘Don’t do this, do this.’ In advertising, you have to offer logic for everything you do."

The freedom to create isn’t the only thing that Yadav derives from his advertising job. It is also a source of inspiration, for it places him smack in the middle of creating ideas—a form of conditioning that his art questions. “The idea of conditioning is a common thread in all my works," says the artist, adding that he examines how people adopt specific world views. “We can’t sell anything any more, we can only get people to like an idea at the most now." For Yadav, the contradiction is a fruitful and enriching one that allows him to constantly engage the viewer with questions.

Yadav’s art accords primacy to experience. “Walking on the surface of the moon is something we have all thought of. Here, the position of the observed has shifted dramatically, from overhead to underfoot. There’s something poetic about it," he says. The poet’s conditioned response to the lyricism of the moon has escaped Yadav’s critique for now.

A simulation of My Lunatic Instinct will be shown today, 11am-7pm, at Gallery Maskara. Click here for details.

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