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.


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?


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.


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[.]


This post was contributed by Victor Barrenechea.



  • phreeck

    All you retards, whether the tunnel be real or not, the only psychopath is someone who would willingly walk into the “rape tunnel” as it would be clearly labeled as such.
    That would be like jumping into a wood chipper after reading the warning label.

  • Mook

    Real or fake, it’s an interesting project. Obviously, if a person read the warning, and then traveled down the RAPE TUNNEL, they’d have no right to complain about BEING RAPED in the RAPE TUNNEL.

    However, the project wouldn’t be as interesting if people didn’t protest it…

  • Mike Tyson

    Probably not real, but if it is we should get someone like Mike Tyson who is tough, mean and has an attitude to go down the tunnel. After Mike beats his ass and bites his ears off, he’ll BE art.


    HAHA You are obviously so antiquated as to believe ‘art’ means dick at all. You’ve lost your place in history. Deal with it. Move on. But unlike every other contemporary ‘artist’ whos very title suggests their delusional mind set you’ve regressed to quite possibly criminal activity..all so people will ‘pay attention’ to your fuck off little ‘art scene’. Piss off.

  • stephen

    I don’t buy Whitehurst’s justification for rape as a “situation that impacts people in meaningful ways.” No doubt, it does, but since he also claims, “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,” why should he make that effect negative at all? his art career would end in prison and he violates his own (stated) moral beliefs. I recognize that rape is one of the most extreme things you can do to another person, but that also lets me infer that Whitehurst lacks the creativity to think of a tunnel that gives a profoundly positive impact on an individual, rather than punching in the face, raping, or killing.

  • Richard Butthurst

    Crichlowe and Haden,

    You both need to STFD. Philosophical claims, unlike art, don’t just mean whatever you want them to mean.

  • Capt. Obvious

    ” J. Crichlowe wrote:
    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!”

    LOL @ this tool thinking this is real

  • dm60462

    Fine with me! You have concealed carry there, right? Mr. Whitehurst, meet my friend Mr. Glock. Problem solved.

  • Aaron Doming

    The only way I seriously see this going down if it was real is Richard Whitehurst getting choked out by a BJJ BlackBlack. No one with out a certain strength or skill and sure confidence would dare enter the tunnel.

  • Danny the Manny

    J. Crichlowe wrote:

    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!

    – Getting Raped. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it.

  • Bob Onit

    Ok, it’s pretty evident that this “artist” is a total douche looking for attention. But you have to wonder if the idiots who knowingly enter this tunnel don’t deserve whatever they get.

  • Curious

    I have to be honest, I think the idea is genius. I almost want to go through myself and try to defend myself, but thats something I may easily regret. I wonder how he’s gonna keep it up to rape anyone. Viagra is the obvious answer, though if he doesn’t bother with it, then I feel it’s time to start worrying about his integrity.

  • juan

    Hey, it’s a rape tunnel, if you want the cuddle tunnel go somewhere else. If someone gets on their hands and knees and crawls through the rape tunnel, then they will be raped, if they don’t want to be raped dont go through the tunnel. I hope he “rapes” lots of people.

  • Kat

    I would never approve of an installation like this, but I’m putting my former art student hat on. So the installation is called the rape tunnel and explicitly states that the artist will do all in his power to rape whoever enters. As ‘the rapist’ he’s indifferent to the morality of his intended actions, he just wants to get what he wants. The public are contributing to the installation just by having any reaction to it – any reaction, even turning one’s head and looking the other way is essential to the installation. If knowing that someone is a rapist, do they still put themselves in a position of submission to him? Do they protest his actions? Do they go all vigilante on his ass and kill the guy? Do they ignore it?

    Unfortunately, the installation is missing the crucial fact for anyone that actually wanders in there – No rapist is going to announce himself to his victim right off the bat. More than anything, this installation would be a commentary on the people that know he is ‘a rapist’ and don’t do anything.

    If only everyone would react as vehemently toward a rapist as they do to this article.

  • not surprised

    Isn’t it fascinating that most of the media addled blog-happy dullards who just couldn’t wait to denounce this minor provocation have egregious spelling and grammar errors in their posts? I am, as it were, not surprised. Art isn’t dead because artists resort to such inelegant extremes, it is dead because the gallivanting mass of tube-fed reactionaries posing as liberal epicures haven’t the wits, or the guts, to be honestly engaged and therefore demand such inelegant extremes. On second thoght, it isn’t fassinating at all… just tippical

  • I heart bombast

    Dear artist,
    If you really want to make an impact on the lives of people, you should just buckle down and become an architect.

  • Hana

    Sorry, but rape isn’t considered as artistic. As an art student, I consider art is something you make to give people a smile on their face or making people at awe at your work in a good way. Sure, you can do emotional art, but without hurting someone.

    Raping is consider a sick ideal where you try to destroy someone’s life with physical violence. And I will not accept such thing as art.

  • pipe raper

    This man is a brilliant artist, it would be an honour to get anally intruded by him. Me and my wife will be visiting and she will love it. bring on the rape!!

  • Raivu

    I agree that Oral Sex or any sexual act in general at the end of the tunnel would be a much better option than rape.
    In the case of sexual experience at the end of the tunnel, it would truly impact everyone’s lives because who gets to go to an art show and say “Guess what! I went to an art presentation and had sex in it with the creator!”

    I don’t know about you, but that would be a pretty big impact on my life.

  • Donkey Punch

    I’d love to have a crawl through this tunnel. I’d pop out through the end and I would show him my artistic ability, by painting the walls on the inside of the project room with his fucking brain after I pop him in the head with my .45

    fucking idiot.

  • Mookie

    I’m trying to decide which would be more funny: this whole thing is a farce, or it is exactly face-value truth.
    The interviewer stole my first question, the obvious: “What’s next, a murder tunnel?”.

    He keeps using the word “meaningful” without ever saying anything that supports the idea that there is anything meaningful about the work, and he doesn’t get challenged on this point. The interviewer, if this is real, is an idiotic tool, and as such, possibly worse at being a person than the artist himself.

    My favorite statement from the artist is: “The problem with most of today’s art is that it’s being created for a world that doesn’t want or need it.” He then goes on to say nothing to indicate, in any persuasive way, that his art is wanted or needed by the world, but does once again invoke the word “meaningful” in a meaningless way.

    He’s a genius, of a sort, and anyone who crawls through that tunnel is an idiot, of many sorts.

    Personally, if this is real, I think the best outcome would be for a very strong person, wearing a firmly strapped safety helmet and crotch cup, should crawl through the tunnel and murder this sick fuck, thus giving him what he probably wants most of all: martyrdom to his idea of art. I wish I could be that person. Think of it. Someone you can kill with zero guilt. See? He’s already manipulating and corrupting my thinking with his amoral world view. Thus, his “art” is already successful.

    Like I said, a genius.

    Do me a favor, talk Brian Teasley of Atlanta GA into entering the tunnel. These two deserve each-other.

  • J. Fritzel

    Bah, zis guy is a plagiarising scheiße.

    I tried to patent ze “repeated incestuous rape and imprisoned for life” tunnel, but ze authorities did not appreciate ze artistic gesture.

  • Team Sleaze

    This is absolutely fucking hilarious!!
    Rape = fun for all! This guy is a genius! A modern day Einstein

  • Richard Scott Kenny

    you people are so stupid of course its a fake , you are the sort of folk who wrote letters about the devilishly wicked ” brass eye ” because you though it was real . Retards !!!!!!!

  • sexual fantasy

    too bad it’s not really, otherwise i’d say count me in. think of all the other people out there that could finally have their darkest fantasy come true.

  • Madelaine

    I personally think this is a great idea! By making this, the artist is making a statement. Going in through the tunnel is the art viewers CHOICE no one is forcing said person to go get raped, it’s a choice made by an individual.

  • Kevin

    It would be quite intersting if someone with HIV decided to take a small trip through the tunnel. Reverse it so they were having an “impact on his life” years later. Either that or send Floyd Mayweather Jr through the tunnel and see how he likes a punch in the face. All that aside…if you don’t want raped don’t climb through the tunnel

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno