MFA Design Lecture: materious / Bruce Tharp

Lecture Synopsis:
Bruce will be discussing the topic of discursive design—when designers use the product-form as a means to communicate substantive ideas in hopes of inspiring reflection and debate, allowing design to participate more broadly in culture. While this mode of design has historically been located outside of industry and commerce, it is now being used within traditional corporate design research processes. While commonly understood as critical design, I will also discuss the notion of criticality and how discursive design differs.
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Bruce M. Tharp and his wife Stephanie M. Tharp established their creative studio, materious, in Chicago in 2005. “Materious” is an archaic word that means both “substance” and “substantive,” reflecting their concern for imbuing deep meaning, messaging, and value within domestic artifacts. At times aiming for provocation and pertubation, while at others sustenance and service, their practice spans the four fields of commercial-, responsible-, experimental-, and discursive design. They have patented and licensed designs that are sold commercially, been awarded commissions from Moet-Hennessy and the Art Institute of Chicago, and also engage in self-production and wholesale/retail sales. Materious has exhibited in Milan, Paris, New York, and in China, with their work represented commercially in Japan, China, Singapore, Australia, Russia, across Europe, Canada, and South America. After studying mechanical engineering at Bucknell University and becoming the distinguished graduate of Pratt Institute’s Master of Industrial Design program, Bruce went on to receive a MA and PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Chicago. As an anthropologist he spent two years living with the Amish of Indiana studying their material culture and consumption. His dissertation work was published as “Ascetical Value: The Materiality of Spirituality among the Old Order Amish.” Currently he is finishing an essay, “Value in Dispossession,” for an Anthropology of Arts Reader (Bloomsbury), and along with Stephanie Tharp is working on a book project entitled Discursive Design – a realm of alternative and expansive design practice that they have helped to problematize and legitimize over the past decade. Previously to the Stamps School of Art and Design Bruce helped plan and build the Designed Objects graduate program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He most recently was the Director of Graduate Studies for the School of Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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