ARTLURKER

A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno

[Image removed upon request of owner]

The Rape Tunnel being fabricated in Richard Whitehurst’s Columbus studio.

Richard Whitehurst is a Columbus-based artist who made his mark on the Ohio scene by showing at the William Strunk Jr. Museum of Contemporary Art in Akron and internationally regarded galleries such as Alexandria Asheton Gallery and Seward Projects Space. He was the 2006 recipient of an Akron Culture Committee fellowship and has quickly become a seminal figure in the often overshadowed Rustbelt regional art scene, rapidly moving from sculpture and installation to more challenging situational based work that would make Nicolas Bourriaud’s head spin.

In fact, his new controversial work, THE RAPE TUNNEL, which is set to go on view at Columbus’ 4D Gallery on October 30th, has come under fire from Columbus-based feminist groups not to mention, local law enforcement officials. The artist plans to place himself in a room, the only entrance or exit being a 22 ft long plywood tunnel constructed by Whitehurst himself. Then he says that for the duration of the gallery’s opening (from 7:00 p.m. to midnight) he will rape anyone who travels through the tunnel into that room.

On a recent trip to Ohio, nearly all art-related conversation stirred wildly around Whitehurst and his tunnel, with half the people hailing him a vastly important figure to keep an eye out for, while others regarding his work as cheap and exploitative – not to mention very dangerous.

We’ll let you readers decide. The following interview was conducted on September 22nd via e-mail correspondence.

Please describe the project.

In the 4D Gallery main room, I’ve constructed a 22 ft tunnel out of plywood that leads into the project room. There is no way in or out of the project room except for this tunnel. As you travel through the tunnel, it gets smaller and smaller, making it so that you have to crawl and put yourself in a submissive position in order to reach the tunnel’s destination. At the end of the tunnel the subject will find me waiting in the project room and I’ll try to the best of my ability to overpower and rape the person who crawls through.

Why rape?

Because as an artistic gesture, it’s one of the most impactful I can think of. For the past ten years Ohio’s art scene has been largely centered around a string of alternative spaces in Akron’s warehouse district, where people had been putting on art shows. At the beginning I happily participated along with everyone else but then I started to feel like it wasn’t going anywhere. It dawned on me that if the work we created had never existed the world would be no different than if it had. None of it mattered to anyone outside of our small and insignificant circle of peers. I wanted something that would have more impact.

I started to think differently about my work. In 2007 at the Seward Projects Space in Columbus, I had my first breakthrough with an installation that was to be the prototype for this current one. It was called THE PUNCH-YOU-IN-THE-FACE TUNNEL. It was the same set-up as THE RAPE TUNNEL except at the end of the tunnel I’d punch the subject in the face instead of raping him or her. The impetus was completely reactionary to the current state of art, and motivated by pure frustration.

As it turns out, I ended up breaking the nose of the third person to crawl through the tunnel, an aspiring model. She went to the hospital and eventually sued me. Her modeling career was put on hold. The civil case was long and drawn out and the matter still hasn’t been resolved. To this day she still has unpaid medical bills. The point of this long aside is that all this took place two years ago, and I’m still having an impact on this young lady’s life, something not many other artists could claim about their work.

Rape seemed like the next logical step.

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Richard Whitehurst.

But rape is way more extreme than a punch to the face. Is your intention to ruin people’s lives?

Possibly. I’m not necessarily concerned with the positive or negative effects of this project so long as there is some effect on people’s lives. I’ve merely set up a situation where there is potential to impact people in meaningful ways. Maybe I won’t be able to rape everyone who crawls through the tunnel, but the door is open for all kinds of scenarios; rape, serious injury, maybe even death. I might even get arrested.

Right now the installation isn’t even complete, and I’ve riled up a substantial portion of the local population. The installation as an idea is powerful enough itself.

By “substantial portion of the local population” are you referring to people that have been protesting this event?

Yes.

How do you feel about the protesters?

I’m fine with them. They have the right to speak out against this installation. The project would be an utter failure if it didn’t create this kind of open dialogue.

Are you pro-rape?

Not really. I personally think rape is morally reprehensible and something that should generally not be allowed in our society. Most people feel this way, which is why the act is exploitable for the purposes of my work. If people were not so repulsed by rape then this project would fail.

Does this mean you’re willing to go to jail for the sake of your work?

I am. The local authorities are already threatening to have this exhibition shut down. Caroline Miffen [4D Gallery director] to her credit has hired a team of lawyers working hard to ensure that THE RAPE TUNNEL will proceed as planned. At the end of the day there’s a disclaimer on the door so people know what they’re getting into.

It would seem that what you are proposing to do will not technically constitute rape for the obvious reason that whoever enters into the tunnel is acting of their own free will, therefore making the act consensual. If you aren’t really raping anyone, doesn’t that undermine the credibility of the project?

First of all, I want to make it clear that I plan to make the experience as unpleasant as I possibly can to anyone who dares to crawl through the tunnel. I will try to the best of my ability to make them regret their decision.

Secondly, rape is not always a black and white issue. The definition is argued almost everyday in courtrooms around the country. The woman who gets too drunk one night and regrets having sex the next morning, was she raped or not? There is no easy answer. I hope some of that ambiguity will manifest itself in this project.

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Richard Whitehurst.

Do you have any limitations on the kind of person you’ll rape?

None whatsoever. It could be men, women, old, young, fat, thin… anyone.

What if a police officer crawls through the tunnel?

Then I will probably go to jail. But before that I’ll try my very best to sexually assault him or her. The tunnel is constructed in such a way that it gets smaller the closer you get to the project room. The bigger you are, the more difficult it is to comfortably crawl out. And trust me, I have a lot of secrets up my sleeve to ensure that I can overpower anyone that comes through the tunnel.

Where do you go from here then, a “Murder Tunnel”?

No. That would be too much like repeating myself. I’ve thought about this long and hard.

I’m in danger of painting myself into a corner here and I fear that the sensational aspects of my work might overshadow my ultimate message. If I could somehow cure some disease in the name of art, that would be interesting.

The problem with most of today’s art is that it’s being created for a world that doesn’t want or need it. So many other lesser modes of expression have taken the place once held by art in the culture. I’m trying to totally reconfigure art’s importance in the world and make it meaningful. The process will take a long time. I’m not really sure what the next step will be. I’d rather concentrate on the current project[.]

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This post was contributed by Victor Barrenechea.

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514 Comments

  • I was there

    This artist has issues. Serious issues. He should get fixed and them begin making art again. Perhaps he could perform oral sex on the individuals when they reached the end of the tunnel. This would be a much nicer gesture.Loving Gestures are more powerful than violence!

  • Legit

    What an idiot. Rape is not a form of artistic expression. In this work, the tunnel and the exhibition strategy itself is the locus of artistic expression, while he himself is a sexual predator setting himself up in the middle of the spider’s web. Rape is so against moral codes that no one should reasonably expect to be raped if they reach the end of the tunnel, and he should be arrested if he tries. Perhaps someone extremely well trained in self defense will go in there and kick his ass. That would be a good show.

  • Joanne Mattera

    This guy in an insensitive anus. As a result, he’ll get get a ton of attention, which is clearly what he’s looking for. I have a suggestion for his next work: The Hole. He should dig it, enclose himself in it, and stay there.

  • J. Crichlowe

    Finally, someone who is willing to genuinely push the boundaries of artistic expression! THE RAPE TUNNEL is going to be a seminal work that forces people to reexamine the relationship between art and the observer, between the world and the Heideggerian being-in-the-world. As a side note, I think it’s unfortunate that people are so willing to prejudge a work without experiencing it firsthand. Kudos to the artist!

  • Roma

    Wow – all these years on the Internets and people still can’t spot a good hoax.

    Calm down people – it’s not real.

  • Let's see

    Mineral was the fourth comment a few minutes ago, so they’re still being front-loaded. Are any showing up afterwards?

  • Trevor

    If you dont want to get raped, dont go in the RAPE TUNNEL, you know, like avoiding the punch you in the face tunnel. God people are idiots.

  • Dave Robertson

    So what will you call the tunnel after someone shoots you in the face for attempted sexual assault? Maybe the “Justifiable Homicide Tunnel”?

    Watch out for the light at the end of the tunnel…..it’s a muzzle flash!

  • S Davy

    It would be far more courageous of the artist to place himself in the lower status submissive position, allowing his viewers or “participants” to do as they will to him-Yoko Ono did that often, and a nice bond was formed. I suspect (hope) someone will go in there with a lead pipe and crack his head open as he makes his move. Art should sometimes terrify, but not shred the viewer.

  • Richard Haden

    Crichlowe,

    There is no such thing as a “Heideggarian Being in the world”. Heideggar did not have a system…if you are talking about Heidegger’s work, “Being and Time” or continental philosophy in general you are talking about dasein (being in…) or worlds, or moods, or modes of Art and so on…You need to be more specific other wise you are just slinging philosophical names around like a clueless commentator…do you actually understands anti-philosophy?

  • phil

    if this guy wants to make an impact in the world and a real possitive one, he should make a suicide tunnel and be the first to use it

  • Kevin

    Protesters of this work should spend more time protesting bonsai kitty.

    hoax art is a hoax.

    the GOAL of the project is to make people REACT. same as bonsai kitty. so please, protest, holler, rant, rave. get local media attention on a HOAX. or better yet, ask the real question, WHO THE FSK IS GOING TO WALK DOWN A ‘RAPE TUNNEL’ OR A ‘PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE TUNNEL’…. kmon use common sense, or is that still a super-power?

  • Steph

    I seriously don’t believe this is real. Why would an art gallery willingly let someone rape another person? First of all it’s against the LAW, and it would probably put their gallery, and their jobs, in jeopardy! If this IS real, this guy is sick and should be shot in the crotch…. then he’ll remember his impact forever. He’s obviously an attention whore.

  • Dan

    The purpose of this imaginary art installation is to provoke angry responses from idiots on the internet who actually believe it to be real. This project has been an overwhelming success. Everyone who took this seriously and responded in anger should take a moment to reflect upon their own stupidity.

  • tellingitthewayitis

    I think this artist has a violent streak and people should boycott his display.

    Rape is a power trip and violent.

    This artist is a nut case in my opinion.

    This is not art but a travesty!

  • shitbot

    it’s about time someone stood up for the rapists and the rapers in this country. rape is the single most gratifying sexual act that i have ever been party to, both as a giver and a receiver.

  • I agree

    Reminds me of the old Roman gladiator matches. Yes we all want to see what happens. Evil lurks in blessed shadows. This is reality art. He is surly underestimating the destruction he invites.

  • In Agreement FOR the

    I feel you are all missing the point.
    He is, and WILL, be expressing her artistic form in a way that has caused you to react. He has won and I think its genius. Rape, punching in the face, murder, it doesn’t matter. he already impacted the world with this ingenious piece. I say kudos to him and wish him the best in his future projects.

  • J. Crichlowe

    Mr. GAYden,

    I never indicated that Heidegger used a system; I was simply contextualizing a relevant phrase that would have made little sense on its own. Being for Heidegger is always “Being-in-the-world.” I’d like to apologize for not writing my comment in German, since you appear to believe that all references to a given thinker should be made in the language in which he composed his major works. That being the case, however, I take issue with your sloppy translation of ‘dasein’ as “being in…” I would prefer “there-being,” which communicates the spirit of his thought much more effectively in English. I suppose I’m going to have to download an Attic Greek character set to make comments about Plato… By the way, you wrote this:

    “Do you actually understands anti-philosophy?”

    This underscores my next point, which is that you are an idiot. And probably gay.

  • Anonomous

    Can’t you see people, there is no RAPE TUNNEL as already pointed out the tunnel is a hoax this article is the real piece of art. It got you to react it got you to think about a vital part of the human experience, Morality. Think about it.

  • Brandon

    Blogs and posts like this never cease to bring out the most stupid and easily offended prudish people in the world. No one actually creates a rape tunnel. Ever. This is OBVIOUSLY a joke and 90% of these people are to marvelously stupid to see that this is a joke. For the offended – come on grandma, crawl back in your own hole and sit there until your useless life wastes away, your lack of humour is not necessary for the survival of the gene pool.

  • Justin

    This man is not an artist. He is a sadistic psychopath that needs to be locked up as soon as possible.

  • Not Impressed

    This is horsecawk… This guy is stealing my thunder. I created the “RAPE TUNNEL” a long time ago. I actually call it my basement

  • Art Vandelay

    it’s real…and you all are gonna get raped. This is the funniest idea ever. If someone were to actually walk down a “Rape Tunnel”, it’s not rape cause they consented as soon as they entered.

  • Augustus

    This is not art. Art is not coming up with the next big shock. It is not throwing dead animal bits over your audience or daring them to come into a hole so you can rape them.

    Someone please, for the sake of art and humanity, burn this down with him in it.

  • minky steve

    the rape tunnel is you. every day you are in the rape tunnel and are both rapist and raped

    look around you with eyes that see the truth and all you will see is

    the walls of the rape tunnel

  • Hans Moleman

    This is why mass executions is warranted…because people believe that this satire is true.

    Of course, all usable organs will be donated to the deserving people…the innocent.

  • windmillproject

    I think that the comments the artist made about artwork no longer being valuable in the same ways is very true. I also feel that as an artist you have a responsibility to convey a truth or reality that is as pure as you can possibly make it, with as little compromise as possible. If his disgust for rape is less important to him than his disire to create art with a life long impact than this is the right choice for him as an artist, but I can say as an artist i value a different set of ideals. If I thought I could take him I would walk right down that tunnel and rape him myself. I think art lacks truth when it is created without real life experience. If he has never been violently raped I would find it most interesting to know there was just a bit more conflict to this situation. The sport of it seems a bit more fair. Just imagine the beauty of his life being changed forever by art of his own conception.

  • Arro

    This artist needs help. He’ll learn the value raping someone by getting himself raped in prison….

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno