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.



  • The Truth

    The reality is he has picked that would invoke this sort of response in people and he is using it to get media attention and invoke public debate. As to the reasons behind it however, there is no benifical insight that can or will be gained from this work. Society and people in general are already aware of rape in various societies and most people at least the well ballanced among us are sickened by it. The artist is just one of many self important people that is trying to bring meaning to his own life through self delusion, he is not the first nor the last. Additionally he won’t be that last that hurts others as a result if he is successful.

  • An Artist

    This is the kind of thinking which is at best, provincial. Meaning is not determined by gesture, but by gaze. If he wishes to shake-up the art world, he should start looking at which media audiences look at today in search for “meaning”, which is in itself very subjective. An action like this only tries to reinforce the notion that “artist-knows-best” in the good old “white-male-genius” mold. Perhaps he has a short memory or bad research skills – other antics have been done in the name of changing art, bringing back meaning, and so on, but have always fallen short of its proposed outcomes.

    no point in wishing this one good luck…

  • Andrew

    You know, it occurs to me that if someone crawls through this tunnel, having read the sign at the front, it essentially implies they are giving consent, so it’s not technically rape.

    This is a pretty fucked up piece of “art” but if you crawl through a tunnel after having read a sign that says “If you crawl through this tunnel, I will rape you”, there’s a pretty large amount of personal responsibility involved if you then decide to, say, CRAWL THROUGH THE FUCKING TUNNEL.

  • Richard Whitehurst

    Oh hi guys. Please come see my work, and I will make it a pleasant experience for you.

  • Yanks are thick fux

    Seriously great piece of art.
    whether its Tunnel in which Richard Whitehurst intends to subdue and rape his audience or just a fantastic creation of fiction by Sheila Zareno. either way it’s impact and intensity is as hard hitting as a punch in the face.
    people getting angry about something they are unwilling to change for themselves is pathetic and sums up just how these artist can belittle what smidgen of intellect you might have. All in all, a remarkable piece of literature, provocative artwork and depressing resolve from the masses.

    Sheila Zareno Richard Whitehurst

  • marie

    this is fantastic. you all know there is no raping going on in there, right? it’s performance art and he has made us the performers. This man has gotten us to think about and discuss – and to feel something very real – about a topic important to our society and culture.

  • C

    I’m building a KICK-YOU-IN-THE-FACE Tunnel, you will have to walk down the tunnel until it narrows and you eventually crawl to this window in which you must stick your head in only to see me winding up a strong round house kick to your kisser. Admission will be $25.00


    This concept is brilliant. Its even more brilliant that this website is the sum total of the installation. LOVE IT.

  • cekkk

    i’ve built 3 rape tunnels for art galleries in the past and this is blatant plagarism.

    some notes,

    1. you will not be prosecuted for building a rape tunnel if you have the appropriate warnings. when you tell someone you will rape them if they enter the tunnel, it is no longer rape when you enter their tunnels. it is consensual tunnel sex and between two rational adults acting out a scene of love and fragility in these dark times.

    2. do not allow mexicans in your rape tunnel. they will claim that they did not read your warning correctly and that they thought they were entering a wormhole to the ‘real america’. it is all lies, and you will have to pay them off with work boots and a three musketeers.

    3. bring your children.

  • av4ntgarde-

    If this isn’t a commentary on art itself and some of its ridiculous conceptions and values, the reasoning as stated for this project is idiotic. The purpose of art is not just to effect as many people as possible in as profound a way as possible. Why not just call the holocaust one of the greatest masterpieces of all time? Atrocities are something which should be spoken about in art, not Committed. If this is the kind of thing art needs to consist of regularly to get peoples’ attention, of what value is that attention anymore anyway?

  • thedude24135

    where i personally wouldnt walk through that tunnel i dont think it should be nice or pleasant i dont care if you dont think its right art is supposed to mess with peoples minds not go with what you want i say he has no problems what so ever and he should continue his work

  • Michel Foucault

    Zaphod Beeblebrox wrote:
    … 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…

    ZB, I find it saddening to think that people, such as yourself, have developed such a low opinion of art. Perhaps with the expanse and collision of new-media forms of “Art” you have lost your way when it comes to defining what is (and isn’t) art?

    Internet art is so hugely popular, hard to define, and yet can be so very successful. In reading through these comments, I find myself wondering whether the Author’s intention was for this to be internet art?

    If so, I personally believe that this is a nihilistic dig on contemporary art forms. With the loss of real (artistic)skill, comes an overall loss of knowledge. I don’t believe that this “art” helps in achieving any kind of resolution, and it reflects poorly on a new media of art which is much stronger and more powerful than this example.

  • Maralynn

    If the people know that they are going to be raped if they enter the tunnel… does that still make it rape if they freely subject themselves to it? You know some nymphos are going to grab this opportunity. Sex is seen as an art to some people. I think if the people know that rape is involved, but still enter, then they consented to the sexual acts.

  • A. Nuran

    Good thing for him it’s fake. Otherwise I can imagine plenty of folks going there prepared for serious social occasions. Ohio does issue concealed handgun permits. A simple pocket knife can do wonders at close quarters. And if five or six people go into the tunnel together our rapist could find a mudhole stomped in him.

  • jhzet

    If this man exists, he is batshit insane. But whether or not this is real, it is one of the most hilarious things I have ever read, and I almost shat myself reading it.

  • get him...

    So what should happen is everybody can go into the rape tunnel and rape him, personally i feel the sacrifice of his own self righteous hole would have way more impact in the art world. now that would be an exhibit! so normative the guy raping everyone that comes into his passe. a bunch of chicks raping his egotistical thats art.

  • Julie

    Jesus, can’t this guy find a less damaging way to get laid? This is neither funny nor artistic. The psychological and emotional impact of rape is not art but a horrific nightmare. Recreating the act of rape is disgusting and this man should not only be jailed but psychologically examined. Trivializing rape is wrong, and I hope to god this man realizes what he is doing before society takes this as a cue to cast rape aside as a part of life.

  • woundedduck

    If he wants to have an effect on people’s live, why build the tunnel? Just go out and rape people, get sent to jail, then he can have an effect on the guys who rape him. Now that’s art.

  • Laurie

    Mr Chrichlowe, you are the best kind of troll.

    I wonder if you actually understand Being and Time. It’d be pretty cool if you did.

  • herp

    all this butthurt is hilarious. if that tunnel is actually real, people going through it get what they wanted. stop crying and respect the artist and his attempt to create something unique. if its not real, lol @ you all raging about some fake bullshit.



  • 'tisbettertobesilent

    “’tis better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.”

    The best part of the article is reading the responses. If other people had read the responses, this thread would be hella lot shorter, and a lot fewer people would look foolish.

    This is an amazing insight into how come most debates fail. I mean, the information is WRITTEN down, and people are still not taking it in. Just saying their thing, and signing off. The funniest part of this thing is the obvious futility of everyone’s actions. “I didn’t read anything, but other people are going to read MINE…of course it isn’t a flagrant and self-demonstrated waste of time”…as I write this, I am feeling like I am wasting my own time, but I can’t seem to help myself. At least I can console myself in that I at least read almost all of the commentary, and I know, at least one person (Mookie, you are my hero!), read other replies.

    And I will confess that I almost thought it was real and had a “wtf!” reaction myself, BUT I READ THE REPLIES!

    On the off chance that someone reads this…I will repeat other peoples’ comments: THIS IS NOT REAL. This is a wind tunnel!!!

    Sick joke, though…on a lot of levels. We are a sad, sad species.

  • Anon

    That’s so weird! I was just finishing up my “Forcible Castration Tunnel Explorer” art installation when I read about this! Talk about perfect timing!

  • 'tisbettertobesilent

    p.s. Sheila, you’re a genius, and I think social psychologists should do studies based on peoples’ responses to your article. Fascinating glimpse into the primate brain…mine included, embarrassingly.

  • cosmic horror

    Best part of this article: reading all the comments from women who stupidly didn’t read the comments and for some reason think this is real. Most are violently offended, and some think it’s artistic genius. All of them, of course, are stupid.

  • Mr "obvious"

    Could i just point out that if this is real, all the advantages are in the rapists favors, you can’t shoot him and you can’t beat him up even if you have a gun or even if you have very good self defence skills, because climbing through the small whole you’d not be able to see him to aim nevermind use martial ars, and as he said “And trust me, I have a lot of secrets up my sleeve to ensure that I can overpower anyone that comes through the tunnel.” i’m assuming anyone that pops their head through will likely get maced straight away, then stripped with any concealed weapons confiscated,after being tazered and tied up i doubt anyone could kill him as you all seem to think you could do.

  • Justin

    If I was in Ohio, I’d crawl through that tunnel and rape him at gunpoint. If he’s so curious about rape, I’ll happily enlighten him.

  • Not Impressed. be so desperate to make a mark on the world that you’d do anything, even an act of depravity… Sad. Many of us want to make a difference in this world. We could choose to do anything! Why this? Why would a guy want to be remembered as the guy who raped someone? NOT very original…I think it’s been done a zillion times.

  • Charles Chaplin

    Aye you guys are lucky to have a rape tunnel. In my day we used to live in one room, all twenty-six of us, no furniture, ‘alf the floor was missing, and we were all ‘uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.


    Oh my GOD, people don’t actually BELIEVE this, do they? HONESTLY, it’s ridiculous! Do you believe the website about how pumpkin murder is terrible and should be stopped too?!

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno