The work of Arthur Huang and Mary V. Marsh, perfectly calibrated for this age of confessional eating and exhibitionist documentation, examines the minute rituals of food. Currently on exhibit at Mercury Twenty Gallery in Oakland, the two artists explore our culture of consumption, how we ingest ideas, relationships and expectations along with a few basic nutrients and our daily dose of caffeine.

2002 Diet as Periodic Table

What do you get when you combine an MFA from RISD with a degree in biochemistry and molecular cell biology? If you throw in a healthy dose of OCD and lots of wall space, you wouldn’t be surprised to find Arthur Huang’s elaborate works of dietary classification. Using data-collecting systems of the scientific method, Huang recorded with painstaking detail what he eats for a year. The display of this information in ordered columns and rows, with their evocative colors shading obscure terminology, reveals beautiful patterns. His chart spans an entire wall. You can step back and take in the amazing human endeavor, or you can step close to study his precise data. He provides a helpful key so you can decipher the information in the table. I was delighted to see that Huang had included among his ten categories of food elements a few of my own favorite edibles: Salty Foods, Sweet Foods and Condiments.

His periodic chart is part of an elegantly curated show, “Inscribere,” at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, a gallery within the same complex as Mercury Twenty.

The Coffee Diary

While coffee may have once built empires and fueled revolutions, for most of us, it merely jump starts another workday. Mary V. Marsh bracketed a year of her life and then used the 327 paper coffee cups she purchased to record details of the moment. From mundane routine to memorable events, buying and drinking coffee become interwoven with people, places, movement and repetition. Picking up various cups to read her Sharpie-scratched words, I learned that she ate a pumpkin scone on one day, rode her bike on another and stood in a long line the day when Pete’s was down two employees. As I recount this for a food blog, I must admit the experience was both familiar and eerie.

The works of both Huang and Marsh reveal intimate connections within large-scale systems. Even as you wonder about the ways of science or calculate coffee dollars and carbon miles, you can’t help but feel connected to the daily lives of two living, breathing, eating individuals.

Mercury Twenty Gallery
25 Grand Ave. (at Broadway)
Oakland, CA 94612

Gallery hours are Friday and Saturday, 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, or by appointment. There will be extended gallery hours on Saturdays, August 4, 11 & 25, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm in conjunction with the Unread Book Project Reading Room. For additional information, please contact

The Art of Consumption: Arthur Huang & Mary V. Marsh 9 April,2008Thy Tran

  • Jennifer Maiser

    The coffee cup project sounds fascinating … I am going to try to get over there and see it.

  • celadonbird

    Thanks for the peek at these fascinating projects! Your words hit at the core of this ritualartistic documentation and the resulting satisfaction that we vicariously enjoy…


Thy Tran

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place.

Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website,, to learn more about her culinary adventures.

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