Five or six years ago Chicago-based performance artist Robert Metrick became obsessed with the Dark Ages after reading Barbara Tuchman’s history of medieval Europe, A Distant Mirror.

“The whole era, the sense of fatality, the continuous resurgence of black plague, fascinated me,” Metrick explains.

At the same time Metrick–best known for large-cast postmodern performance extravaganzas with wry titles like Cockroaches at Dawn, The Martha (A Possible Opera), and O Klahoma or the Farmer in the Astral Plains–found he was “burned out” on human relationships, both personal and professional.

He retreated, Glenn Gould-like, into the recording studio and created a witty solo piece for the Experimental Sound Studio called The Minstrel’s Tale, about a lonely, hapless organization man–he sometimes sounds like a medieval monk, sometimes like a 20th-century office temp–who goes on a long quest through the wastelands surrounding Mount Prospect.

Metrick has long since returned from his self-imposed hermitage, and The Minstrel’s Tale now serves as one of two strands that Metrick weaves through his latest large-ensemble work: The Enunciation (What the Oxen Said).

The other strand, The Hazards of Birth and Regeneration, is adapted from Hildegard of Bingen’s 12th-century religious drama, Ordo Virtutum, an allegory about the battle between the Virtues and the Devil for a character named Anima (or the Soul). In Metrick’s version Hildegard’s medieval virtues–faith, hope, chastity, humility, discipline–are replaced by more modern ones: sleep, guilt, labor, perseverance, reproach, fate.

“At first I was thinking like marketability, user friendliness, proactivity, but then I thought I didn’t really want to do a broad parody of Hildegard of Bingen.

“Still, I do have a natural, surrealist bent. My work just unavoidably comes out dreamlike and absurdist.”

The Enunciation (What the Oxen Said) opens June 8 and runs Thursdays through Saturdays through June 24 at 8 PM at Chicago Filmmakers’ Kino-Eye Cinema, 1543 W. Division. Admission is $10. Call 554-0671 for reservations.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Armando Villa.