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The lawn next to the Hilton San Diego Bayfront is one of the most striking intersections in San Diego. The Convention Center’s next door. Petco Park is across the street. That new pedestrian bridge is close by. The trolley rumbles past. And around the corner, giant ships shoulder stacks of Dole freight containers.

In this intersection, Nina Preisendorfer and Brian Zimmerman worked Wednesday afternoon to set up their art piece, one of the 18 ArtLabs local artists are presenting this weekend in connection with the Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair. Their rendering of what it would be showed the phrase “i once did something thoughtful” in large letters along the Hilton lawn.

When I asked about the phrase, they said they don’t intend to communicate any specific message — to some viewers, the inscription might literally inspire a remembrance of a time they did something thoughtful. Others might be bewildered by its existence on the lawn and dismiss it entirely. Still others might mess with the medium itself, smooshing the flour. It’s unpredictable, the artists said, but that’s exciting to them.

The plan was to pour baking flour — they bought 200 pounds of it — through a stencil they’d made onto the lawn, then lift the stencil carefully to leave the white letters against the green.

Though both artists have incorporated text into their artwork before, neither had used this technique in a previous piece. Would it work?

That’s when I showed up to watch, with NBC 7 San Diego.

They set 19 sheets of tempered cardboard on the lawn, stretching about 101 feet. Blades of grass poked through the holes they’d cut out for the letters. They sliced out the pieces connecting the center of an “o” and the hooks of the “e”s.

Then Zimmerman filled up a bucket with holes in the bottom — the “enormous, upside-down salt shaker,” he dubbed it — and began to shake flour over the openings. Preisendorfer came behind him with a small dusting broom to scrape the excess flour into the holes. When a few letters were filled in, they lifted the first pieces of cardboard.

“i once”: The beginning of the phrase showed up starkly against the green lawn.

Here’s more from the process, captured for our weekly Behind the Scene TV segment:

View more videos at:

The piece is meant to be temporary, ephemeral, subject to the whims of the lawn and the saltwater breeze and the people and dogs that pass it.

I asked Preisendorfer about the motivation for the piece. She said she and Zimmerman wanted to make something that would spark interaction and introspective thought, especially as a contrast to the commercial art fair happening inside the Hilton. But they didn’t want to make the piece about a biting critique of commercialism — “That’s kind of cliché, too,” she said.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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