In this talk, I would like to take my experience of teaching in the discipline of architecture as a point of departure to explore the relationship between architectural complexity, the Anthropocene, and data. The specific instance that I aim to address is plastic, the material that is problematic but at the same time essential for everyone. Plastic is often considered problematic in a sense that it is a mass-produced object which almost already becomes waste after a single use. It is known that wasted plastics are harmful to both human body and the (built) environment. A number of researchers, practitioners and non-governmental organizations often bring statistical data and research results from science and engineering studies, thereby hoping to accuse its detrimental and unsustainable nature and thus search for alternatives. Information about plastics is translated into the set of calculated numbers and weights, becoming empirical data which are supposed to provide crucial impetus as to what needs to be practically done. However, would such approaches reflect enough the complexity of the material? What if we could never reach at a point where all the ever-accumulated plastic wastes are removed? Are we able to be away from the simplified opposition of utopia and dystopia around the practices of the Anthropocene? Dealing with plastic is not about the matter of choosing one over another. It would instead, to borrow the phrase of Donna Haraway, be about ‘staying with the trouble.’ This notion is developed in a class on contemporary Korean architecture. I first introduce ‘plastiglomerate’ as a threshold through which to challenge the set of clichéd binaries such as nature and culture, human and nonhuman, and beauty and ugliness that are prominent in the area of study. The class also critically reviews environmental moralism in a similar vein, thereby proposing a model of practice that is still ethically driven but in a symmetrical sense.
Seunghan Paek earned his Ph.D. in Art History at Ohio State University and worked at Yale University as a postdoctoral fellow. After having taught classes of history, theory and criticism as well as design studio at Catholic Kwandong University in Gangneung, Dr. Paek now work in the Department of Architecture at Pusan National University specializing architectural theory. His research focuses on architecture and urbanism in contemporary Korea, with a particular interest in issues of the everyday, affect, new materialisms, the Anthropocene, and Object-Oriented Ontology. He has published a wide range of articles, essays, and book chapters in the areas of Architecture, Art History, and Asian Studies in both English and Korean languages, some of which include positions: asia critique, Verge: Studies in Global Asias, Korea Journal, and The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Urban Literary Studies. He is currently preparing a book manuscript entitled, Spectacularly Ordinary: Urbanism, Signs, and the Everyday in Contemporary South Korea.