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The home of postgraduate study in contemporary art at Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney.
"Those who don’t do, can’t teach" - an interview with Stefan Popescu


Stefan Popescu, Vixen Velvet, feature film still, 2013

Stefan Popescu graduated from the Bachelor of Visual Arts (Hons) at SCA and then went on to complete the PhD program, with a thesis titled ‘Material Affects: The Body-Language of Film’. He now coordinates SCA’s Master of Film and Digital Image, a one year postgraduate coursework degree in film-making. 

Tell us how you came to be working in the MFDI program…

While I was undertaking my PhD I started teaching casually to earn some money. I then realised that research-led teaching keeps me on my toes as a practising artist. I soon decided that being an artist-academic was the appropriate career path for me.

What does a week in your life as an ‘artist-academic’ look like?

I have 4 days teaching and then 3 days off. On my days off I work on the Sydney Underground Film Festival and my current projects. So I’m usually running around between the SCA campus, the Sydney Underground Film Festival Office and my own studio, with occasional meetings with the artists contributing to my current projects. 

What are those current projects?

At the moment I have several projects running, but the two I am most immersed in are the programming for the 2013 Sydney Underground Film Festival and finalising post-production on my recent feature film shot in the depths of frozen Canada. I don’t mind losing endless hours to this project, because it is my first zom-com (zombie comedy) film. It was a fun film to make – it’s got tons of blood, loads of guns and even real explosions. However, it’s a little smarter than your average zombie film with many layers of referencing.

How do you structure your projects? You must have to work quite closely with other people, so what kind of processes are involved in the creation of your work?

Artists tend to isolate themselves in their studio, only emerging to exhibit their work, and I must say that the initial planning and development stages of my practice are exactly like this. But then I collaborate with others to make the project materialise. It’s both a preference and a necessity to work this way, because filmmaking involves the effort of many people. My last two feature films have been written and shot with the collaboration of a small town in far north Canada, near the Arctic Circle. It was such a great experience - we had locals acting, doing special effects make-up, designing sets, and the local fire department and Rangers designed the pyrotechnics for the film.

It sounds like you have quite a lot going on – do you find that your different roles and responsibilities start to inform each other? 

Juggling artistic projects, research requirements and teaching is a strangely natural process; they all seem to be able to coexist symbiotically. I don’t think I could be as confident or effective teaching if I wasn’t making films and involved in the industry. 

In my own work I not only discover new artists, works, theories and methodologies, but also make mistakes and encounter difficulties. I usually then synthesise these experiences, work out what might be beneficial to my students and incorporate them into the lesson plan. Conversely, the enthusiasm and freshness of the student’s experience infects me and I am alerted to potential new research areas I wouldn’t have been able to see before.

What kind of opportunities are you presented with by being involved with a university as well as the industry?

The academic community provides you with so many opportunities to meet people, and collaborate on projects, conferences and exhibitions, and this propels both your creative and academic career. 

It also acts as a safety net for my practice – industry can be harsh and unforgiving, but practicing art in a university setting allows for research outputs that don’t have to be commercially viable. A lot of it is about ‘play’, and sometimes when you’re playing around with ideas and methodologies you stumble across things that you wouldn’t discover if you were constrained by a preconceived goal.

I personally need the community to be supported and inspired. This applies to both students and my fellow colleagues. It is easy to think up new projects and see them through when people around you are on the same wavelength.

What have you discovered through all these years of work? 

That the saying “those who can’t do, teach” should be changed to “those who don’t do, can’t teach.”

And finally, who has captured your attention recently? Which artists do you think are doing interesting things?

Harmony Korine, David Firth, Gerhard Richter, Danie Mellor, George Gittoes, Xu Zhen, and Charles Stankievech.


Stefan’s University profile

Stefan’s Vimeo channel

Master of Film and Digital Image

Sydney Underground Film Festival 

— 1 year ago
#mfdi  #studio practice as research  #staff profile  #stefan popescu