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.



  • Belinda

    I am sure that many have had the same thought. The artist is trapped in a room as well, and there’s nothing to prevent a possible ‘victim’ from coming into the tunnel armed. I would be less ready to ‘rape’ someone and more likely to be afraid of what awaits coming into the tunnel.

  • Bae

    Yeah, this has been up for a while, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. Hilarious. Wonderful, massively amusing article.
    The tone is perfect. It’s clear by the end that it’s not for real, but it’s not TOO obvious. As everyone who’s still freaking out about shows.

    To all the people threatening to beat the artist up: stop it. You’re embarrassing the internet.

  • John

    I dont think this is real, however if it is, the fact that people would travel down a 22 ft tunnel under the pretenses of impending rape i think they are wanting it, making it just rough sex.

  • Silent Bob

    I agree, people aren’t seeing past the fact that it is their choice to walk through the tunnel. No one can blame the artist here. It is a descision to made by the viewer, the same as making the choice to walk off a bridge.

  • Heidi

    Well, I hope it’s better than Escher’s Rape Tunnel. That thing kept going and going and going and going…

  • Alex

    *snort* 3 months old, and all this thing can do is 301 comments? Come ON Internet!? You can do better than this? Christ on a cracker, FARK and SomethingAwful can generate 300 comments in TEN MINUTES, and you’ve had 3 MONTHS?


  • K

    Now look, I get what he’s going for, but as a rape victim who has now undergone 6 years of therapy and am still suffering from depression, it drives me absolutely mad to see how many people think it’s fun to make light of rape. I’m willing to give the artist a pass because he’s done his job to spark conversation about the subject, but to everyone who thinks it’s cute and clever to even joke about rape as a positive thing: I hope you never have to go through the hell I’ve been living in since I was raped. There is absolutely nothing funny about it and I guarantee you that even if you don’t know it, someone you know has been raped or sexually assaulted. Please try and have compassion.

  • Fan of Rape

    I wonder if multiple people can enter all at once, poor richard would have his hands full. haha.

    God damn it’s about time we had a true artist rise from the shit stained crowd of the current.

    I hope this is real, either way it rules.

  • Albert Einstein

    The rape tunnel is a scientific impossibility, I should know, I’m Einstein*

    *Note to those who think that I’m really Einstein….this is untrue

  • IDB

    Let’s face it, anyone who goes into a “rape tunnel” deserves all they get! By the way, it’s not rape, it is implied consent because unless someone has been tricked into going in, it’s pretty obvious what will happen. Furthermore. it’s a spoof, a hoax, a joke for publicity. Not brilliant publicity but in the art world any publicity is good publicity!

  • C.P.

    So if someone buys a gun, loads it with ammo, points it directly at their head and pulls the trigger, is the gun manufacturer morally reprehensible for creating the gun? If someone gets a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner and ignores all warnings on the bottle and drinks the entire thing and dies, is Clorox sick for creating the toilet bowl cleaner?

    If you think Mr. Whitehurst is a bad person for creating this work of art, you are a world class idiot and the very epitome of everything that is wrong with the world today. You represent the pinnacle of irresponsibility and you are the reason for the it’s-everybody’s-fault-but-mine attitude that is so prevalent today.

    TL;DR if you don’t want to get raped, don’t go down THE RAPE TUNNEL.

  • Retarded Comments

    To the fools who commented with anti-rape sentiments, not only do you now know about his work, you have read an article about it, AND got traumatised enough to write a comment… YOU LOSE!

  • Jayne

    This guy needs serious help if he believes rape is anything other than a cruel, sadistic act of violence. Rape is not an art form, and the fact that he’s threatening to do this should earn him a jail cell. I say have cops standing at the tunnel interest and at the first sign of trouble, have him in cuffs.

    And to those who believe that “he won” because we’re talking about it, making a stand and doing something unconventional to make a point is one thing. Violation of personal dignity and rights is another entirely. It’s not a joke, and it’s not art. Besides, art shouldn’t be about getting noticed or publicized anyway, but personal expression. Rape isn’t an expression of anything but insanity and cruelty.

  • Dick_Izinya

    In a word: Brilliant. He’s like DaVinci, except with rape instead of engineering, sculpting and painting.

  • Question Mark

    So, what’s the deal with condoms and what not if someone actually DOES decide to go through the tunnel? What about participants with std’s or HIV? Shouldn’t warnings on the project include sexually transmitted ramifications, fear of pregnancy, etc. or is all of that included under the implications of rape? Either way, interesting idea to get people out of their seats and talking, even if it is for something like voluntary rape.

  • Colin

    This reminds me of Futurama and other speculative fiction, with ‘suicide booths’ and other automated, futuristic methods of deliberately causing unpleasant things to happen to you.

    As for this guy,

    “[R]ape 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.”

    shows a subtle, sexist misunderstanding of the nature of consent that worries me. (Because that’s totally the most worrisome thing about this.)

  • knorriega

    First of all, anybody who chose to go through that tunnel would do so knowing full well what’s waiting for them. It’s not hurting anybody unwilling and that is what free expression is all about and is fundamentally intertwined with the belief in freewill/freedom. So if you believe that people should be free to express themselves, I don’t see how you could object to the message he is trying to send here. I think his message is best summed up with this quote by him, “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.”

  • me

    This is fucking brilliant and I salute you, sir. If only there were more rape tunnels, the world would be a better place.

  • Stephen McGingerale

    Ummm….335 comments….his plan to create a stir with his artistic device has become victorious ….I’m not sayin’ anything…Just sayin’.

  • BBambles

    Attention whore!! This dude is so full of shit. Not that he wont try to rape someone, I just mean in general. Anyone who pretends to appreciate what this moron is doing or saying are the exact same people who will willingly go through his rape tunnel. So if his idea spawned from the notion that his art was only impacting/inspiring a small circle of peers then he is full of fail. Real artists or real people that are inspired by art will never take this fucktard seriously. Instead of being creative AND orginal, he just comes off as bored and desperate. I personally hope he does rape someone and goes to fucking prison. And when he’s being dude raped nightly, he realizes that it was all for art. What a complete waste of time and energy. You might as well say you are declaring a Jihad in the name of Art.

  • Julia Gordon-Bramer

    Imagine if he had wanted to leave everyone with a positive permanent impact, instead of a negative one.

    His greater idea is fascinating. He’s just approaching it completely the wrong way.

  • TheLastPsychiatrist

    You’ll observe that about a third of the comments are of the type, “I hope someone goes down there and kills him!”

    That’s pretty intense rage that isn’t directed at any _actual_ rapists. You know exactly where the “rape tunnel” in your local area is, where you can go and be guaranteed to be raped, but no one cares about those rapists, no one has any rage towards them. In fact, you are completely at peace with those guys.

    This guy, who isn’t actually a rapist.

    You may want to consider where that rage comes from.

  • Carla

    I’m a put a packet of aids blood in my asshole- go through the tunnel-
    and then put it on my resume
    it’ll be fun to collaborate with this douche

  • S Carlsson

    This is pretty much the most stupid thing i have heard in a while, at least this week.

    There just isn’t really anything to discuss.
    Maybe the “artist” himself, he is obviously very inept at this trying to profound thing.

    The only art here is the art of stupidity.

  • Jessica

    this man is seriously f’ed in the head…..who the hell would even think of something this sickening and gruesome? i dont understand the point of it. what a psycho i hope he gets arrested and put in prison….the bastard.

  • Rahul S

    The artit is a moron, but….

    He is also a product of the environment. An environment which consists of art patrons with too much money and too little taste.

    These are the guys who should be taxed to the max.

  • deuce

    He’s defeated the purpose by promoting himself. Anyone who goes through the tunnel is doing so willingly, thus dissolving the act of rape.

  • LeeOnami

    Brilliant! I think that this art piece will be outrageous and have a lot of impact. I applaud this man for going there. I’d love to see this piece.

  • Rolf

    I admit I haven’t read through all the posts, so sorry if I repeat arguments.

    Sure there would be tons of people to want to go in there. However, I don’t know if Whitehurst is completly aware of the kind of people he’s attracting. I think of people with a rape fetish (who he won’t have a lasting effect on because they’ll enjoy it) or those who really hate him, who’ll go in there armed or with other means to stop his project.
    Sure, the second option he took into consideration. But I think those are almost the only ones who’ll go in, and that could result in a short and boring end to his art.

  • D Danger

    I’d like some credit in this. I have owned and operated a rape tunnel out of my front door every halloween for years. The only difference is apparently this asshole took the bucket of candy out from the end.

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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno