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.



  • Mandible Claw


    Should have known this was too good to be true.

    “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…” one of the best sentences ever written/spoken.

  • alex

    Are you F***ING KIDDING ME??????????????? How is this guy not forced to be institutionalizeD? this is the most stupid ridiculous and pointless thing i’ve ever heard. I hope THIS ARTIST GETS HIS ASS RAPED IN JAIL!!!!!!! He puts a shame to all real “artists” in the world.

  • Stephanie

    What a moron. He wants to have a long-lasting impact on people’s lives and the best thing he can come up with is rape? He’s willing to do what he finds “morally reprehensible” in order to make art? Jackass. Just because no one else wants to do it, doesn’t make it art.

  • Gordie b. geo bush.


    Ur ass gonna get raped in that tunnel by fly monkeys off the wizard of ozz!

  • Casey

    Gross. I’m pretty sure anyone crawling through the hole will think it’s a hoax – so I don’t think anyone crawling through it truly deserves to get raped.

    Now I’m sure rapists are going to go around and rape some more people, claiming it’s being done in the name of art.

    I would only support this “artwork” if a rapist was the first to crawl through the hole, and fight the guy – end result: Rapist raping the “artistic” raper. Maybe the tables will turn and we’ll all hear a report on it. :D

  • sexy

    Yeah to be honest i find the whole idea quite arousing and intriguing, if this was real id be very tempted to crawl through the tunnel just to experience it.

    to all the haters, its fairly simple, if you dont wanna get raped, dont go into the tunnel lol

  • Anon

    I am an artist and have been all my life. I’m very open minded to all beliefs and opinions, but this is just wrong. Hoax or not, this is not something that you joke about. You know what, rather than getting his ass beat or his man parts cut off, I hope someone goes in and gives him AIDs. Let him deal with that for the rest of his life.

  • Anon

    this is a rather interesting form of art. tho it does not appear to be it certainly meets terms used to define art. he did physically craft something and it does invoke feelings and emotions. they don’t have to be good feelings either. the rape tunnel could possible evoke fear or helplessness due to its design to get smaller. would i got it it? fuck no! but i certainly am impressed by such a bold move

  • Anon

    The fact that this whole thing is a hoax aside, to all the haters saying this guy’s gonna get AIDs: are you all related to the pope or something? Cos here in the 21st centure people use these amazing and miraculous rubber devices called ‘condoms’.

  • Dave_A

    I love the federal government and illegal aliens. If I thought either an illegal alien or a federal agent were at the end of the tunnel, I would crawl through, no question.

  • MrHorse

    I will go trough the tunnel masturbating, then i will violently rape this puny artist man – his anus will hang like a bloody pipe sausage when i am done – this WILL BE ART

  • MrHorse

    Forgot to add : when i rape him, he will scream so much, he will be hailed as a handicapped singer as well ! His throat will burst!

  • Dave_A

    As the command specialist major of the Army, I approve the rape tunnel to further facism in this country.

  • Gourami

    If this is “art”, and this guy is considered an “artist”, stop the world, I want off. What can he possibly be trying to prove here?

  • Zaphod Beeblebrox

    Those of you decrying this as a hoax are sadly misunderstanding the point. The point is that something this absurd could, in the context of “modern art”, be taken seriously. This demonstrates just how ridiculous the art world has become.

    It’s too bad that a mere article cannot be nominated for the Turner Prize. An actual “rape tunnel” would qualify, and would even be a strong contender, if done in Britain by a British artist. Perhaps some Londoner will take the idea and run with it.


    So yeah its a hoax but i cant help but think… How nice would it be to walk into a dark tunnel that gets real small and then get to a nice open room have some crazy nonconsensual/consensual sex then walk back out and enjoy the art exhibit. I commend this artist in his quest to make art shows more bearable by starting you off with some sex.

    Also since this is such a good idea may i suggest its implementation on college campuses

  • Lollipop

    If you understand this you will get it. I personally don’t care for rape, but his idea sounds brilliant! The test of life time!

    For those of you who think someone should go in there and shoot him up… your retarded! These people obviously know what they’re getting into. That model had no right to sue him.

    If someone tells you, you’re going to get punched in the face… WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU GET MAD WHEN IT HAPPENS?

    Common sense! lol

  • Nathaniel

    An interesting idea. Other artistically astute writers have already noted that the article itself is the relevant piece of art, but I cannot help wondering what we are supposed to make of this.

    I mean, the notion that the purpose is to get people to think about morality, and the state of art in the present, seems to be naive. The reactions to a work like this are bound to fall into two categories: people who get the joke, in a sense, and are thus unperturbed, and people who will reflexively, and unthinkingly, lash out with obligatory references to the tragic state of art, and proclamations to the effect that Whitehurst is a sick dog that needs to be put down… which is to say that there really is no point to any of this at all.

    It’s like humanity is so used up creatively, all we have left are little pranks. Ironically, it would seem that those who lament the sad lamentable state of the artworld may very well be right, albeit for the wrong reasons.

  • Nate

    So I’ve read a few works by Shakespeare and many of them contain scenes incorporating violence, murder, death, etc. Following the ‘logic’ of those posting here, since murder and suicide are morally wrong and ugly parts of society, Romeo and Juliet should no longer be considered art and should be staunchly opposed and banned.

  • Chuck

    He’s gone too quickly with the rape tunnel, he needed to progress to something this genius. There should have been a urination tunnel, or a fecal matter tunnel. Possibly a cum shot tunnel AND THEN a rape tunnel.

  • auntikrist

    I think he should give blow jobs to anyone that comes through the tunnel. It would be a lot more interesting.

  • Phnepsilon

    Brilliant work! Uh, except for the raping part… yeah, that shit is fucked up. Everything up until that point, though? Fucking brilliant.

    Kudos to Sheila Zareno! Let us hope he dies in a fire before the first person emerges… but only just before. I don’t want this project to go to waste, I just don’t want people getting raped.

    I think the next step is CHILD MOLESTATION TUNNEL, or some shit like that…

    What a Bag’o'douche! A true visionary.

  • punisher

    for everyone against this, why not try this…
    he said hed do anyting that comes in
    why dont we send in like random attacking animals like cobras, badgers, porcupines

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno