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.



  • derp

    There is already an interesting impact that this “art” installation is having and that’s that so many people here reject it out of hand by claiming fake etc. Even if the image used in the article is not the actual rape tunnel (we know the installation is incomplete) or is modeled after/resembles a wind tunnel, that doesn’t prove anything about the actual existence of this project. Do people find the idea so offensive that their only defense is to go into denial? I think that says a lot about the sad state of people.

  • kaiya

    I hope the first person who got to the end of that tunnel was a oblivious, large, angry fat man

  • larry c

    I love this guy!!! he is rocking the boat of the art world…he’s testing boundries. Its like lewis and clark exploring the west. All you that hate this guy angers me. This is not, not, not not candy coated, everybody likes, mainstream bs!!! this is hardcore!!! in your face!

  • mr_p

    What’s wrong with you people? This man is a true artist. He’s taking a risk making controversel art! He is adventurous and a hero! I hope every town has at least 1 rape tunnel someday.

  • mr_b

    Are you all nuts? this man is a hero who is rocking the boat with his contraversal art expression. He is taking a side and sticking with it. I hope, someday, there’s at least 1 rape tunnel in every town!

  • femme fromme

    I applaud the idea of creating a dialogue about shock art. But unfortunately, this more brilliantly exposes the laziness and shallow interest of many internet bloggers and journalists; many of whom, like these commentators, did not choose to follow the link at the bottom of this page.
    Many people are mind numbingly rigid in their construct of what is taboo. I am a rape survivor and I still laughed my ass off. Having such a violent verbal reaction (as many of these internet hobbits have had) to something posited as conceptual, is an assault in its own right. “Richard Whitehurst” dangled an idea in front of you, and many of you chose to become verbally abusive…one might even go so far as to say that many of you became rhetorical Rapists (of a sort.)
    Anyway, this ongoing dialogue is pretty funny in my opinion. Remember, would-be torch wielders, a healthy dose of levity goes a long way.

  • lux

    As a woman that has been raped not only one but twice I find this to be a great social experiment. People knowingly enter to be raped, so is it rape to begin with? It sounds like consent to me and an extreme erotic role playing of sorts.

  • Chief

    I like it when people start going “he should kill himself” and “He should be arrested”. If anyone enters that tunnel, after reading the “enter and get raped! ;) ”-sign, then they give their consent by entering. And therefore, it legally counts as “normal” sex =)

    Besides. This is a hoax. An awesome and cleverly executed one, but still a hoax.

    Shame, really. I would have entered just to let him try xD

  • Mike

    yes, this is a “hoax”. Expounding upon that, THIS is the art project. THIS is the artist creating something to shock the viewers. You have all participated in the art project.

  • Danny

    Congratulations, everyone who took this seriously.

    You’ve all participated in a work of internet art. This is a hoax hoax hoax.


    Well hell. I am a young woman. Yet, if I am dumb enough to craw through the tunnel, why not. I need to get laid anyway.

  • brian botkiller

    This guy’s a fucking piece of shit, I hope someone fucking kills his sorry ass and what he calls “art”.

  • The Raisin Girl

    For all the people who keep claiming that this is OBVIOUSLY a hoax and people who reacted angrily to it were stupid for not realizing that in the first place…

    Consider this. While in some parts of the world rape IS considered morally repugnant and is against the law, in other parts of the world rape is just a part of daily life for women. Children are married off for money in some countries and then repeatedly raped by their spouses. Some countries still don’t even recognize rape as a criminal act. So the fact that this idea exists, hoax or not, is repulsive and disgusting, and not remotely, as some people seem to think, amusing. Rape is an act of violence second only to murder that actually often ends in murder. Rape is a terrible experience that robs the victim of their sense of security, autonomy, and bodily integrity. Rape should not be legitimized or made light of by a hoax like this, especially since there are placed in the world where this could happen and it would NOT be against the law and there would not be a protest to stop it. Oh, and the participants would not be willing, they would be women and young girls being forced through the tunnel for the amusement of male spectators.

  • Jane

    This guy and his concept is disgusting. He doesn’t care what sort of impact so long as he has one, yet so far he’s only been able to come up with violent, negative actions. The fact that he feels no guilt over the pain inflicted and instead is happy about the lasting effect, the fact his presence ‘matter’ paints him as a sociopath and horrific narcissist. He also comes across like someone who has ego issues, some despair over the meaning of life, and can’t think of any reaction other than to destroy and hurt people around him in a desperate plea to be acknowledged. A disgusting attention whore, and one of the worst I’ve seen.

    He’s no different than those predators who vent their sick needs in their basements, except he’s openly venting them and everybody’s hesitating to arrest him because he’s wielding the ‘art’ badge. Don’t even listen to his ‘i want to make an impact’ vomit, there are just as many ways to make positive, lasting impact on people, though they require work. If he actually cared about ‘just making an impact’, or cared about ANYONE, he would focus on those positive things, go join Extreme Makeover House Edition and build lasting homes for people. Go adopt an African Baby, that’s one life you would impact forever.

  • eeeeeeeeeeeee

    Really? Sparking conversation is art? I guess that means the thousands of comment threads online devoted to Justin Bieber’s hair are really thriving artistic analyses. This douchenozzle trivializes both rape and art and Artlurker’s credibility is now up there with The Onion’s. Only without the artistic value of being, you know, funny.

  • Ryan

    To all the people that have said this guy’s a psychopath in serious need of a visit from concealed weapon or AIDS-infested whore – you’re right. Moreover, a good portion of the “art world” (of that which fits into the modern category) is just as nuts as he is, so it wouldn’t have surprised me one bit if this were a real exhibit.

    Just ask the Feminazi student that made “art” out of aborted fetuses.

  • e

    If art is about its impact and the meaning it takes in the viewer’s life…then there are plenty of aid workers, doctors, teachers, etc creating a lot of meaning already….and they dont even need a tunnel

  • balls mcgee

    someone should send a nasty herpes hooker thruogh there and then he’ll get herpes and be sad…succesful rape is sucessful.

  • Morgan

    obviously this is a joke. im confused how anybody that cant see that was able to find the stumble button

  • DieHipsterScum

    What a pretentious tool. God, i fucking hate these shitty people who refer to themselves as artists. Someone ought to go there and give him a nice raping since he obviously has never known anyone who has ever been raped.

  • Online Printing

    I think art is useful even when the message is strong or disgusting, or ugly, the main intention is not to be pleasant, the main intention is leave us moved, for good or not, esthetically shaked.

  • What he asks for

    As soon as this exhibits open I’m going to bring a bus load of morbidly obese people with hygiene issues & pay them to go through this exhibit..Let see how dedicated to art this guy really is when a bus load of sweaty filthy hogs come through his tunnel.

  • Tom

    This ‘artist’ is just a complete narcissist starved for attention. He is just trying to be controversial for the sake of it. There is no message behind his work at all which defeats the purpose of it so this is not art. He says rape is not a black and white issue but it really is. He is making up arguments to justify it. If someone is drunk then it is not rape if they consented to it and they got drunk willingly. End of story. This guy should be locked up in a mental institution.

  • Fake

    Lol, so looks like this is successful. He got the reactions he wanted. So many people just got trolled so bad. XD

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  • hope it's real

    and I hope somebody crawls in there an kills him for attempted rape. he can call himself an artist all he wants but he’s just another attention whore.

  • It's a hoax, but...

    Step one: Wear Batman costume
    Step two: Place shaped charges around exit of tunnel
    Step three: Stand back and ignite

    Now the only way out of the room is through The Goddamn Batman

  • Vivien Arcega

    I feel much more writers need to take care to write with passion like you. Even informational articles like this can have personality. That’s what you’ve interjected in this informative article. Your views are really special.

  • Zack

    So, even if this were real. What if someone lobbed a grenade down the tunnel, you can easily throw 22 ft. and if the entrance is big enough for a person to get through, surely a grenade can. problem solved, the scum would be gone from this Earth.

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  • anon

    I personally think this is hilarious. If you can’t hear the sarcasm in his “voice” then you should try re-reading this from a less closed-minded point of view. By that, I mean don’t automatically assume he’s serious. I think rape is awful, but this guy’s joking.

  • anon

    If someone willingly walks through the tunnel after being told what will happen can you really call it rape?


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THE RAPE TUNNEL By Sheila Zareno