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.




    You’d think people would actually read comments before posting their own, especially when you have to scroll down past all of them to even make a comment. Either there are a lot of trolls, or there are a lot of people here who would actually walk into this tunnel.

  • J

    Its funny, most of you are missing the point and yelling at each other about specifics or about how he’s disgusting or that its a hoax. The point is that you’re talking, arguing, and your life is being impacted by what he’s doing or planning on doing or whatever he said, and its REALLY funny that you don’t even realize it. He’s already succeeding. He isn’t concerned with his own well-being, or anybody’s well-being, just that he makes some sort of impact, and he doesn’t care if its good or bad. I really shouldn’t have to comment nearly verbatim what he was already clearly quoted describing and explaining.

    Also, I fully realize the futility and hypocrisy of my own comment, and simultaneously don’t give a shit. You’ll live.

  • Mel Melman

    To all of you smug, snark-masters: why are people who thought this was real “idiots”? A hoax doesn’t work if it doesn’t have a ring of truth. Geez, Put down the Mountain Dew, Comic Book Guy and get a life.

  • Matt

    Nah… not everything is justified by art. The only way this would be okay would be if the first person to come through his tunnel was Brock Lesnar! Then he might have a slightly different outlook on violence for ‘art’.

  • Adam

    It’s not particularly inventive. Without making a value judgement on the ethics here, it’s just not great art. It’s desperate. Boring.

  • Art Troll

    This is not only an epic troll, but manages to become art in it’s own way in the same manner that the “rape tunnel” would have. It is causing a fantastic reaction and is affecting those who come in contact with it. I absolutely love the fact that those who balk at the idea of an artist “raping” people who willingly enter an installation do themselves advocate beating, murdering, or infecting the artist with aids. Instigating such intense hypocrisy is a fantastic artistic expression.

  • Megumi McMaplesmith

    It’s kind of a retelling of this ancient babylonian myth about the goddess Inanna’s descent into hell, being tricked into nakedness and trapped there, powerless:

    “By orders from Ereshkigal, Inanna is stripped of one item of her apparel as she passes through each of the seven gates of the underworld.

    Naked, Inanna is brought before Ereshkigal, the Queen of Hell, and the Annunaki, the seven judges of the underworld. They sentence her, and Inanna is turned into a corpse.

    Naked Inanna dropped on her knees
    for great Ereshkigal had mounted the throne.
    In her presence the Seven Judges pronounced
    the sentence,
    they fastened their eyes on her,
    eyes of death,
    they spoke the sentence
    of the accused,
    they uttered the cry
    of the accursed.
    Inanna instantly sickened
    to death,
    her body was a corpse that hung
    on a spike.”

  • anony555

    I hope someone throws a match in there. “Fire tunnel”. Or just nail him in. “The death of an idiot.”

  • Not Art

    Regardless of your opinion about this, it is interesting to imagine what your state of mind would be like crawling through the tunnel…

  • Petros Diveris

    I wonder who’s going to take on the task of overpowering the artist in an attempt to push the boundaries between victim and perpetrator. This would have obvious artistic merit lat alone deep implications in our perceptions of consumer and artist, ham and bread.

    I don’t have enough money for a ticket from the UK to the US but if enough people are willing to fund my trip then I would be up for been the one to push those boundaries deep into the artist’s self.

  • Sarah Morrow

    I love it! and I admit, I almost believed it when I read the article. Sigh. I almost wish it was real. I’d go in with a couple of my biggest, bruising-est alpha male friends and watch as they raped the artist who set up the tunnel. Then, what? The Kick in the Crotch Conveyance? the Castration Express?

  • Diane

    I think what would be more interesting he would allow some one to rape him during the exhibit instead of the other way around. I would like to hear his thought on that idea. its always easy to be the offender!!

  • andy

    I think this will very quickly become the “who can beat the art fag’s ass tunnel” amongst local males.

  • Mike

    I think this is great, he’s raping anyone who ASKS for it by walking down a 20+ foot tunnel, if it was an unmarked door or something where a person might make a mistake that’s one thing, but when you see an exhibit called “RAPE TUNNEL” and walk down a 20 foot tunnel that forces you on to your hands and knees you deserve whatever happens to you.

  • The Best Man

    Why does everyone care so much?
    If you have a problem with this…
    just… you know… Don’t go in that hole.
    ;) .
    I doubt anyone will enter a tunnel titled “rape tunnel”? There’s really no threat since not one person would be stupid enough to enter, and the guy will just stand alone in the dark all night naked. Who gives a shit eh?

  • Anya

    It was virtually impossible not to comment on this and contribute the the furore this guy has stirred up. But I’m not going to say a word. I’m not going to be manipulated into proving this jerk’s point!

    Hang on, wait…

    Ah, fuck.

  • Marius

    Someone PLEASE crawl down that tunnel and have him fixed …. and we’ll just call it the NIX TUNNEL.

  • anonymous

    i know this isnt real but if it was id probably go down the tunnel…totally not expecting to get raped…but curious as to whats in the room

  • Hannah

    Honestly, someone should go to the exhibition and bring a knife and stab this sick man. or a gun. And if he gets shot or gets a knife wound? Occupational hazard.

  • Hannah

    Even if this were true, everyone is getting unecassarily upset about it. If you don’t want to get raped, don’t go into the tunnel.

  • Bystander

    Maybe the guy is just hard up and this is the only way he could come up with to get some sex. If you ignore the fact that it’s rape, and all the moral baggage that comes along with that, it’s still a crappy attempt at art. No passion, no meaning, only shock value and controversy. Unfortunately those people who label themselves “art critics” are easily duped into seeing controversy as genius…and the art world spirals a little further down the porcelain bowl.

  • Xandria

    There are many many arguements that pertain to this article but here’s a quick overview. 1. Rape is illegal and immoral no matter what the ‘excuse’ is. 2. IS IT consensual if you voluntarily go into the tunnel knowing full well by the end some guy will try to rape you? 3. If you don’t want to get raped, don’t go into the tunnel. Kudos for him trying to break the boundaries between artist and ‘art’ but dude, seriously, that’s not the right way to do it.

  • pollypop

    I hope some big ass dude goes through his tunnel and rapes him. I wonder if he’ll call it art then. I showed all my fellow NYer’s this article today and we all laughed. His conception of “art” is even worse than Warhol’s. lol

  • dennarai

    I personally think this is a fantastic idea. With this people can now experience rape and its repercussions. Victims of actual rape can no longer tell others that “You just don’t understand.” when rape is just a simple step away. This will allow for a greater depth of emotional understanding in sexual violence. Bravo, my good man!

  • Machiavelli

    I would pay a former hooker/whore with STDs and AIDS to crawl into the tunnel. Let’s see if the artist rapes the disease infected whore. He would find himself in a tough place… One will guarantee death (Aids) and the other humiliation cause he didn’t follow through with his plan.

  • Daniel

    What the hell is wrong with you people? For starters it’s obviously not real, but let’s pretend that it was… the artist wouldn’t be running around committing rape, he’d have a clearly labelled “RAPE TUNNEL” set up and anyone crawling in would know *exactly* what they were getting into… How you can possibly think there’s anything morally wrong with what’s essentially consensual S&M without a safeword is totally beyond me. Of course the real point of the project is to highlight the sort of thinking that says “OH NO HE SAID THE WORD RAPE GO GET HIM!”

  • Proll Neversink

    More artists should rape people. In the America rape is a god given right. God bless the patriot rapists of the lands. Art over freedom, and rape is a manifestation of potato goodness.

  • Bizzy

    This is obviously fake, but hypothetically if this was real…For those who keep asking. No, you cannot consent to or assume the risk of a rape. Obviously, as far as consent goes, if you consent to the rape, it’s not rape, its consensual sex. You also do not consent to rape by crawling through a tunnel. You cannot consent to a tortious act simply by crawling through a tunnel. It is still rape. As for assuming the risk, you cannot assume the risk of an intentional tort, so it’s still rape. So no matter what, if you don’t consent to the sex, it would be rape.

    /end conversation on this issue

  • B-ran

    Hell yeah Rape them fuckers that is a good form of art!!! I don’t agree with rape but since the person walked into the “Rape Tunnel” they will know what they are getting into. I’m sure most of them will enjoy the experience. Doesn’t everyone enjoy being raped every once in a while.

  • Andrew

    I love it how people keep commenting, going “ZOMG this is awful! This guy is a prick!”.

    Even after three months of other comments, screaming “THIS IS FAKE!”

    Use your brains, people.

  • Tim

    Surely one of the most stimulating artistic endeavours of late! It necessitated an examination of what I hold to be Art, and is there anything more worthwhile? Hats off.

  • fire to them

    2 people $free
    2 pair military nightvision $ 600
    2 ar15 semiautomatic rifles $ 2800
    killing that fucker! priceless!

  • zach

    im gonna crawl through this tunnel and beat the fuck out of this guy at the end.. has he thought long and hard about that?

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno