Monkey Town 4 is the Denver edition of an immersive and interactive video-cube dinner experience first launched in Brooklyn in 2003 by former Denverite Montgomery Knott.
Spectators are served a five-course meal while seated inside a giant floating cube projecting film onto four 24-foot screens. Denver is the first city to host Monkey Town outside of New York, and the first stop on an international tour.
Monkey Town 4 will feature a menu prepared by chefs from The Populist, City O’ City, Watercourse Foods and the Noble Swine Supper Club at the Exdo Hall in Denver’s RiNo Arts District. The menu includes fermented vegetables, olive chicken, mole and preserved meyer lemon to name a few ingredients. Vegetarian and gluten-free options are available upon request.
The video program is a little more than two hours long and features films by 18 artists and filmmakers. For this edition, the cinema-in-the-round will be presented in a floating cube of four screens with surround sound. Knott curated the program with assistance from MCA Denver, Denver Digerati, Plus Gallery and BMoCa.
CPR: What inspired you to create Monkey Town and why the name Monkey Town?
Montgomery Knott: Back in 2002, I was starting to make my first films and saw Christian Marclay's four-channel “Quartet” that same year. I had also been speaking with friends about opening some sort of conceptual restaurant inspired by Gordon Matta-Clark's Food cafe/installation in SoHo in the 1970s. And literally I was on a plane to San Francisco and started doodling on a cocktail napkin and drew a four-sided cinema. Five months later, we opened with chefs moonlighting from Chanterelle and Gramercy Tavern and premiered my first four-channel, 50-minute film called “Islands in the Stream” in May 2003.
The name Monkey Town is mostly a nod to Eugene Walter, a novelist and poet from Mobile, Alabama, who was in Fellini's “8 ½” and helped found “The Paris Review” with George Plimpton. He also wrote poems to monkey gods and had a collection of hundreds of monkeys in his study, where we shared sherry one afternoon. The other reference is to the proliferation of monkey graffiti in Williamsburg at the time we opened.
CPR: Why did you choose Denver as the first stop on the Monkey Town tour?
Montgomery Knott: New York is a monster and I am happy to get away from its claws. It has changed a lot in the past six to eight years and rarely for the better. The creative class has been bullied by rapid development in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
I chose Denver mostly because my entire family lives here and I wanted to spend more time with them. But I also heard about Denver's art scene and wanted to tap into its energy. I've met so many talented artists and curators in Denver: Ivar Zeile at Plus Gallery, Dan Landes at City O’ City and Lisa Gedgaudas at Arts and Venues. Everyone has been so generous with their time, advice and introductions.
CPR: How does this work? Can spectators talk to each other while they eat and drink during the screening?
Montgomery Knott: This definitely should not feel like a multiplex experience. I give a short introduction before each seating where I encourage people to talk, except during the performances. But it's not like you're just going out for a dinner either. So, the audience mostly pays attention to videos and films, but they should be able to talk to their friends in a volume that is not disturbing their neighbors. It is not a party. It is not like going to a restaurant where you talk to your friend during the whole meal, but it is also not like going to see “American Hustle” where you are supposed to be completely quiet. Most people adapt easily to this.
CPR: Monkey Town 4 features a floating video cube. How will you suspend the cube from the ceiling?
Montgomery Knott: At each corner of the cube, we run aircraft cable from floor to ceiling. Then we have a single piece of 12-foot fabric that we stretch around each cable to form the cube. It's very simple and elegant once executed, but it involves precise laser measurements to create the seamless projections from screen to screen.
CPR: You left Denver in the late 1980s. How has Denver’s cultural scene evolved since you left?
Montgomery Knott: There has been a huge transformation, even in the past several years. I love what Adam Lerner is doing at the MCA, as well as the emergence of Redline Studios. But you also see a number of smaller performance spaces and groups that are feeding the scene and creating a feedback loop among artists and audience. The larger institutions are still vital, but now there is a community of artists who can live in Denver and still get national recognition. The Art Plant residency program is another promising space that is inviting national artists to come for two to three months, creating interstate exchanges of ideas and curatorial opportunities.
The state and/or city or some private individual should establish an endowment to fund residencies to attract artists to Colorado and keep the ones here who are doing great work. Denver's emerging as a vibrant scene, but it needs some direct institutional help to make it thrive.
Monkey Town 4 opens Thursday, Feb. 27 and runs through June 1 at the Exdo Hall in RiNo. There are two servings nightly at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Prices are $50 for the Tuesday three-course meal and $80 for the 5-course meal Wednesday through Sunday.