What do we actually remember when we eat a Döner? Is it the taste lingering in the mouth or the smell on the fingers? Did we pick up on the interior decor or a piece of conversation we overheard? Maybe it’s none of that, because eating a Döner Kebab has become such a mundane affair that we hardly remember more than the satisfying feeling of being full afterwards. Luckily, the author and illustrator Selina Ursprung has done the work for us. In her book Mit Blauem Pulli und Falafel Fladenbrot she has drawn, painted and written her observations from Döner restaurants in Biel, Bern and Berlin. We had a Q&A with the artist about her work.
Q: How did you start drawing and writing about your observations in Dönerrestaurants?
A: I’m interested in the places we don’t notice. A döner restaurant is a non-place, a location we visit, order and leave again and hardly ever think about. We don’t appreciate it as beautiful or noteworthy. I wanted to dwell on these places and recall the unnoticeable.
Q: When is the best time of day to do observations?
A: Round midnight is frantic with a lot of people on their way to or from parties, many orders and a lot going on. This is interesting in its own way, but also a bit hectic. Less spectacular is the afternoon but this sometimes makes my work more interesting. I can listen to people’s conversations and be bewildered by the stories that play out in the room where I’m just sketching and making my brief notes. I couldn’t bring all my equipment to the restaurants so I often made quick pencil drawings and recorded voice memos in order to finish my illustrations at home.
Q: What kind of stories do you want to tell with your book?
A: I see myself as an illustrator and I observe and document the small things in everyday life. I record bits of conversations, people handling a döner dripping with sauce and the leftovers on the table after the meal. It’s up to the viewer to interpret my drawings and draw their own conclusions. In that sense my work is open to interpretation.
I met the researcher and author of the book Der Geschmack der Gentrifizierung, Miriam Stock, while in Berlin. It turns out we were sharing an interest in dönerculture but from two different perspectives. She has a researcher's gaze on the subject and is knowledgeable about the döner from an anthropologist point of view. She wrote the epilogue to the book which shows another layer of insight to the subject I just scratched the surface of.
Q: How was your work received by the business owners you met?
A: Very varied i think, probably also based on where they work. In Berlin, most owners were busy and said “do your thing” whereas in Biel, people had more time to talk and I could do interviews and have longer conversations. I would have liked to deepen these conversations but that would have prolonged the project more than I had time for. One of the owners, Murat in Biel,was very talkative and also wrote the foreword to the book which made me very happy. We had the book launch in his restaurant as well.