essay explores how the imagination creates dynamic aesthetic experiences by
negotiating the intersection of opposites. The goal is to enrich our thinking
about the relation of nature and art within a more comprehensive environmental
aesthetics. I focus on a single example, the intersections created by the
particular experience of space and time in the paintings of Hiroshi Senju, at
the Shofuso Japanese House in Philadelphia. First, I provide a brief
introduction to Senju and the work at Shofuso. Next, building on perspectives
from within environmental aesthetics and Senju’s own writings, I sketch out a
framework for thinking about the imagination. Finally, I examine how this
creates meaningful intersections in the experience of space and time at
Shofuso, drawing on the work of the philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō.
aesthetics, imagination, installation art, Japanese aesthetics, Hiroshi Senju, Watsuji
waterfall paintings of the contemporary Japanese artist Hiroshi Senju are
enigmatic because they create sound, but the sound is silence. They generate
movement, but the movement is stillness. (Fig.
1) Like champagne, they simultaneously refresh and intoxicate, stimulate
and subdue with a feeling of weightlessness. What is this paradoxical effect
the paintings evoke? What sort of activity does it prompt in us, the viewers?
Figure 1: Hiroshi Senju, Imagination
of Dynamics, 2007, acrylics on hemp paper. Philadelphia, Shofuso Japanese
House. Photo by Peter Doebler, 06/04/14. Reproduced with permission from the
Shofuso Japanese House.
suggestive approach to answering such questions is hinted at by Ronald Hepburn in his essay, “Landscape and the Metaphysical
Imagination.” Hepburn’s concern is articulating how what he terms the
“metaphysical imagination” integrates and gives a certain quality to the
“overall experience of a sense of nature.” He
intriguingly notes that the co-presence of opposites in the experience of
nature, such as life and stillness, or tranquility and vitality, “constitutes a
fundamental, and too little recognized, key concept for aesthetic theory.” In
this essay, I will attempt to recognize this concept a little more, for I
believe it can provide a useful way not only to reflect on a complex experience
of nature but to enrich our thinking about the relation of nature and art
within a more comprehensive environmental aesthetics.
way we could label the concept Hepburn gestures towards is with the word 'intersection,'
using it to denote a place where opposites come together, cross, and for a
moment, commune. I want to suggest
that such intersections are central to any experience of rich aesthetic
engagement and that the imagination is key to creating and sustaining them. This would include the intersection of
descriptive features of a single phenomenon, such as “life and stillness” cited
by Hepburn and visible in Senju’s paintings, but could also include other
relationships, such as the intersection of past and future in time, outer and
inner in space, the artist and audience, or nature and art. We can effectively
see the orchestration of these different kinds of intersections in a particular
work by Senju, his installation at the Shofuso Japanese House in Philadelphia’s
West Fairmont Park. (Fig. 2)
Figure 2: Yoshimura Junzo, Shofuso Japanese House,
1954. Philadelphia, West Fairmont Park. Photo by Peter Doebler, 06/04/14.
what follows, I will focus on the intersections created by the particular
experience of space and time at Shofuso and consider the role imagination plays
in grasping these intersections. In order to do this, I will first provide a
brief introduction to Senju and the work at Shofuso. Then, building on the work
of select perspectives from within environmental aesthetics and Senju’s own
writings, I will sketch out a framework for thinking about the imagination. Then
I will look at how this creates meaningful intersections in the experience of
space and time at Shofuso.
2. Meeting Senju and Shofuso
touchstone for Senju’s artistic vision is his Flatwater series from 1991, which depicts the new coastline in
Hawai‘i formed by the eruption of the Kilauea Volcano’s lava flow into the
ocean. Senju notes that the experience opened new artistic horizons for him.
“In an instant, I understood that if I could paint this scene I could possibly
express time, the universe, earth, as well as white space and ma [an interval]. In fact, ever since
then I have constantly pursued my artwork in order to capture that setting.”
This comment provides an opening for understanding Senju’s subsequent work,
which most often focuses on elemental phenomena in nature that are bracketed
out from extraneous contextual features that would connect the work to a
particular, known place and time. Such phenomena include the ocean, the desert,
waterfalls, cliffs, and the sky.
breakout point in Senju’s career was receiving the Honorable Mention prize at
the 46th Venice Biennale in 1995. The prize was for his massive work,
The Fall, one of the earliest
iterations of what has become a consistent subject of his work up to the
present, indeed the subject Senju is perhaps best known for.
Composing his waterfalls by pouring paint down the surface from the top and
then airbrushing, Senju has created waterfalls of various sizes and in various
mediums, from hand-ground mineral pigments to fluorescent paint that glows an
ethereal blue under black light. One notable feature of Senju’s series of
waterfalls is that they often go beyond the boundaries of art galleries or
museums. Senju has carried out commissions for numerous installations in both
public and private settings, including the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo (2001), the Tokyo Haneda Airport (2004), the
Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto (2005), and the Shofuso Japanese House in
Philadelphia (2007). Here I will focus on Shofuso.
Shofuso Japanese House was commissioned for an exhibition at the Museum of
Modern Art in New York and displayed there from 1954 to 1955. Designed by the
architect Yoshimura Junzō
(1908–1997) in Japan before being disassembled and shipped to America, it is a
premier example of seventeenth-century, shoin-style
house architecture, a type of building typically built for scholars, warriors,
or abbots. In
1956 it was relocated to its current location in Philadelphia’s West Fairmont
Park. Tragically, the original paintings done by Higashiyama Kaii (1908–99) were
destroyed by vandals in 1974, and the sliding doors simply covered in white
paper until Senju was commissioned to make new paintings in 2004. Installed in
2007, there are twenty screens on traditional Japanese sliding doors (襖,
fusuma) laid out in two rooms.
Senju named the larger room, “Imagination of Dynamics” (Fig. 1), and the smaller room, “Imagination of Silence” (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: Hiroshi Senju, Imagination
of Silence, 2007, acrylics on hemp paper. Philadelphia, Shofuso Japanese
House. Photo by Peter Doebler, 06/04/14. Reproduced with permission from the
Shofuso Japanese House.
3. Exploring the imagination
titles Senju gave to the two rooms at Shofuso indicate the importance he
attaches to the role of the imagination in the creation and experience of art.
“When I think of the definition of art, I find it is a way to communicate our
imagination to other people. In other words, conveying our feeling to someone
who wouldn’t readily understand us, this is art.”
Working with his own memories of the waterfalls in nature that he has studied,
Senju uses his imagination to give form to his inner vision and feeling in the
hope of truly achieving a work that can embody this and present it to the
viewer. This is how he measures success: “When you successfully translate your
imagination into your art, you have a masterpiece.”
When Senju’s vision intersects with the vision of the individual viewer through
the meeting place of the finished work, the viewer’s imagination is then
activated and points the viewer back to his or her own memories, completing a
relational circle. “Through my works, the audience will think about their
roots, as if the painting were a mirror to their memories. This shared memory
defines art as a power to break any boundaries between people….”
comments on the operation of the imagination are poetic but they echo Richard
Kearney’s more philosophical analysis of the imagination. In his The Wake of Imagination, Kearney notes
how the imagination has three creative capacities. First is “testimonial,”
drawing on memory in order to represent the past. The next capacity is
“empathetic,” enabling the self to relate to others by envisioning other ways
of being. Finally, there is “critical-utopian,” provoking possibilities for
ways of reordering the world in the future.
But rather than being distinct capacities, these connect to and even build on
one another. Both Senju and Kearney identify a process that involves individual
self-reflection that, in turn, connects with others, both human and non-human, who
are beyond one’s self. This opens towards a prospect for a better world.
can we further specify how the imagination performs this networking of the self
with its environment? In a discussion of the role of the imagination in the
appreciation of nature, Emily Brady identifies four modes of imagination that
she calls exploratory, projective, ampliative, and revelatory.
This framework can help deepen our understanding of how aesthetic encounters
are engaged rather than passive. Rather than matching with the different “capacities”
of Kearney’s typology in a one-to-one way, these modes specify ways of
imagining that support such capacities but may operate across them. These modes
of imagination move from relative simplicity to greater complexity.
imagination is closely linked to direct perception and uses imaginative
associations to make an aesthetic judgment about an object. For example, I feel
the smooth gloss of a new leaf that has just emerged in springtime and I think
of an image of a baby’s smooth skin. Projective imagination goes a step further
in actively placing a new image onto the perceived object “such that what is
actually there is somehow added to, replaced with, or overlaid by, a projected
We play with ways of seeing the object differently in order to further enrich
our experiences, for example seeing the tiny veins in the leaf and imagining my
hand as the leaf, feeling the flow of nutrients from water and soil and the
expansion of life beneath the sun. Next, ampliative imagination goes beyond the
mere play of imagining one thing as another to imagining the broader context in
which the object participates spatially and temporally, often creating a
narrative. Here scientific knowledge may play an important role. In the case of
the new leaf, I may imagine its relationship to the flower that immediately
preceded it or how the leaf will look in the fall, larger, rougher, and more
aged, or even of the future decay of the leaf into the ground, which will
sustain other trees and new leaves. Such imaginings may then lead into
revelatory imagination. “In this mode, invention stretches the power of
imagination to its limits, and this often gives way to a kind of truth or
knowledge about the world—a kind of revelation in a non-religious sense.”
But what is unique about this kind of truth, Brady notes, is that it is
distinctly aesthetic because it emerges through close perceptual and
is specifically talking about imagination and the experience of the natural environment.
But her framework has broader applications for the experience of the built
environment, including art such as Senju’s. This would require that we blur the
distinction between the aesthetic experience of nature and art. On one hand,
there certainly are differences between the experience of nature and art. One
of the strengths of recent work in environmental aesthetics is that it has
helped develop a vocabulary for articulating unique aspects of the experience
of nature. Two
differences that have been noted are the experience of space and time.
Regarding space, nature, in contrast to much art, is frameless. Rather than
being limited by either a literal frame or the more abstract frame of special
contexts, like museums, the natural environment is boundless, “surrounding and
enveloping us, with indefinite elements and indeterminate boundaries.”
This moves us from being a passive observer to an active constituent of a
larger whole and highlights our total, bodily engagement, opening aesthetics
from a visual and auditory focus to embracing synesthesia, especially the
neglected senses of touch, smell, and taste.
Likewise, the experience of nature is also different from art in its temporal
mode. If artworks are “on the whole, stable, enduring objects of perception,
nature is unplanned and often spontaneous, making our encounters with it
unpredictable, and full of surprises.”
So, instead of having a controlling, objective view of the thing itself that
can be circumscribed by the spectator at selected times, nature manifests
itself as different all the time and, in this way, provides potentially
infinite aesthetic experiences.
the other hand, while these spatial and temporal differences are very clear
when compared to paradigmatic fine art, like the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre Museum, there are many experiences
that fall in between, most notably architecture. In the experience of the built
environment, there is a give-and-take between environment and art. It is
impossible to separate a building from its site in the natural environment, and
it is equally impossible to separate these from the perceiving person. Instead,
they work together, each contributing a part. Accounting for this kind of
relationship leads Arnold Berleant to propose a mediating position, an
aesthetics of engagement. The experience of architecture requires both
kinesthetic and synesthetic engagement, and such engagement with a building is
only one specific feature of our broader interaction with the environment as a
whole, an engagement that is always drawing on all of our senses.
An aesthetics of engagement, then, challenges thinking of the individual
subject as a detached observer that is more reason than body. “The environment
is not the object of a subjective act of contemplation: Environment is
continuous with us, our very condition of living.”
But while Berleant roots this aesthetic in the experience of the environment,
he also acknowledges that nature is not distinct from human culture: “Our very
conception of nature has emerged historically and differs widely from one
cultural tradition to another.”
So, it is never possible nor desirable to bracket the natural environment from
the human life world.
light of this, one thing to add to Brady’s analysis is that the modes of
imaginative engagement she identifies, while based on immediate perception, are
to some extent shaped by cultural context, and, therefore, the imaginative
experience of nature may not always be sharply cut off from art. What this
suggests is a continuum between nature and art. The perceiver must often make
slight adjustments based on the particular context, from the extremes of raw
nature, such as Yosemite, to an abstract Joan Mitchell painting, with a variety
of experiences in between, such as gardens, earthworks, or installations such
as Senju’s. While the following discussion focuses on Senju’s paintings at
Shofuso, I do not want to argue that this is exceptional among other artworks
in its ability to create a rich, multi-sensory experience, with active,
imaginative engagement with nature.
Rather, I offer it as exemplary as a way to
tease out the many layers latent in any aesthetic experience, while holding
that every artwork carries this potential to varying degrees, both in its
content and its context. Senju’s painting is positioned between
representational and abstract, but even the most abstract or conceptual artworks
depend on engaging the senses and imagination, often in more complex ways than
art that refers directly to nature in any obvious way; indeed, unpacking this
is part of the satisfaction such artworks supply. Likewise, while in places I
contrast Shofuso to a typical museum setting, the site most people associate
with the experience of visual art, this also sits on a continuum. Much artwork
in our museums was originally viewed, and used, in very different contexts, and
it is part of the curator’s job to give some sense of this original context, to
open new horizons temporally and culturally for the visitor. At the same time,
museums create their own sort of immersive environments, depending on layout,
lighting, and so on, that, at their best, foster new imaginative experiences
that gain their power from being in dialogue with other experiences, such as
nature or daily life, rather than being in competition with them. My analysis
here, then, is to suggest how visual art may function more broadly as an
engaging prompt to human flourishing in its aesthetic and imaginative life. With
this in mind, we are now in a position to look more closely at the imaginative
intersections at play in Senju’s paintings at the Shofuso Japanese House.
4. Imagination and space: Intersection
of inside and outside in a middle space
first the choice of subject matter, mono-chrome, semi-abstract waterfalls, and
the names of the rooms may seem to bracket the paintings from nature. However,
Senju’s choice is intentional. Reflecting on the process of choosing the
paintings for the unique context of Shofuso, Senju says:
Acknowledging the beauty of the
landscape from all sides of Shofuso, I decided to use my senses. By closing my
eyes and “feeling” the atmosphere, I heard the waterfall coming out of the
pond. I was perhaps not able to create a work referring to the four seasons
that was strong enough, but I could paint the waterfall. Maybe I could not
capture all the colors, but I could try to capture the sound of it within the
we see how Senju, rather than imposing his own ideas on the house, instead
decided to consult nature, but through his imagination. And his point that “the
landscape surrounding it would be much more beautiful” makes sense when one
understands the unique context. Since the material support of each painting, with
the exception of the large one in the alcove, is a sliding door rather than a
fixed canvas on a wall, this creates an active, mobile image. Not only can it
connect the paintings between the rooms, creating innumerable paintings, as it
were, depending on how much the doors are slid open and where one is sitting,
but the doors also open to the outside directly. This creates a permeable space
between the inside and outside, a kind of “middle space” that Senju suggests is
a distinctive feature of Japanese architecture. Therefore changes in the weather and
light, depending on the time of day and the season, will affect how the
waterfalls appear, thus creating new paintings at any moment. This contrasts
with a painting in a closed room that would always be seen in the same,
artificial light. A variation on this is that the paintings change depending on
if you view them from in the room or outside from the veranda, as they are
framed by the dark, wooden post and lintel. (Fig. 4)
Figure 4: Hiroshi Senju, Imagination
of Dynamics and Imagination of Silence, 2007, acrylics on hemp
paper. Philadelphia, Shofuso Japanese House. Photo by Peter Doebler, 06/04/14.
Reproduced with permission from the Shofuso Japanese House.
Additionally, when the outside-facing shoji doors are opened (incidentally, these are not painted), this
effectively turns nature into a work of art, “framing” it with the aperture of
the doors, a natural artwork that faces the human artwork inside.
cooperation with nature in the planning of the paintings is also seen in his
choice of materials. He drew the colors from nature, green, clay, and red, in
order to create what, on a cursory glance, appears to be black but on closer
inspection is a deep color that changes hue depending on the light, weather, or
what it is perceived with in the larger visual field.
On one hand, the paintings complement the building itself, blending with the
wood and ivory walls, feeling as if they are an organic part of the structure; the
streams of the waterfall are also echoed in the lattice above the fusuma. On the other hand, because the
outside two walls of each room open onto the garden, the paintings blend with
the pond and the fauna in the changing seasons: spring and summer green, the
reds of fall, and the austere brown and white of winter. In these ways, Senju’s
paintings at Shofuso show a sensitivity to the particularity of space and place,
integrating the natural and human environments. Furthermore, Senju attributes this
way of conceiving space as a continuous series of interacting planes “that
expands further and further out” to the Japanese landscape itself, which is
rich in mountains, fog, and mist.
Senju, this unique continuum of space that links inside and outside is
expressed in an exemplary way in Kanō Eitoku’s
(1543–1590) Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons (花鳥図, kachōzu,
1566) at the Daitokuji-Jukoin
Temple in Kyoto. He notes how the rocks
and trees in the painting resemble the rocks and trees in the outside garden.
Outside links to inside and flying birds and blossoming trees are brought into
the living space, and the result is a different space, a “virtual reality.” In the
same way, Senju discusses how his paintings at Shofuso use colors that link
with the house and garden, and content—the waterfall—that links with the pond,
and together these create a different space, “a mind of harmony.”
5. Imagination and time: intersection
of past and future in the present moment
If Senju’s paintings at Shofuso create a spatial
intersection between inside and outside, they also evoke a temporal
intersection between past and future. This was already suggested above in the
fact that the outside doors can easily open to the external space, integrating the
paintings with the natural world and placing them and the visitor in the cycle
of the days and seasons. This charges the present experience with a focus on
the uniqueness of the particular moment. In this way, Senju’s paintings echo
Yuriko Saito’s comments about the tea ceremony:
Though highly stylized and guided by
almost excruciatingly detailed instructions, the overall purpose of the wabi tea is to celebrate and appreciate
the aesthetic experience brought about by the chance meeting of many elements
beyond human control. The occasion thus created by meticulous preparation and chance is for one time only,
referred to as ichigo ichie (one
chance, one meeting). In a sense, this aesthetic activity represents our entire
world and life where the ruling principles are transience, insufficiency,
imperfection, and accidents. Senju’s
waterfalls seem to embody this, with careful preparation of materials but
innumerable chance elements related to the pouring technique, producing
paintings each totally unique and that continue to change in their relation to
nature and the human visitors. It is certainly no accident that the Shofuso
House offers tea ceremony classes and demonstrations in such a setting.
key element of this focus on the particular temporal moment is how it creates
an active participation by engaging all of the bodily senses. The differences
in external light depending on the day or season can alter how the paintings
appear but, at the same time, the relatively monochrome paintings can alter how
one appreciates the color of the surroundings. Next, hearing is activated.
Since the whole image is just falling water, there is nothing else in the image
to distract one’s attention and, as a result, the auditory sense seems to
become more acute: the paintings sound
loud. But this imaginative, virtual sound is then made real by the sound of a
waterfall bubbling out in the Shofuso garden pond, and, in this way, nature
supports the paintings. This easy commerce between outside nature and the
paintings within the building also engages the visitor’s sense of touch. Again,
this is in large part related to the architectural design, since the covered
veranda helps keep the house cool in summer or warm in winter. Indeed, it is
very refreshing to look at the paintings as the day outside gets hotter; one
can almost feel the temperature of the waterfalls in the paintings change.
Likewise, different atmospheric elements, such as mist, fog, clouds, or snow,
will change the overall feeling of the paintings.
Since the building allows for
this permeable space between inside and outside, the paintings change with the
weather and light, and the visitor’s body registers these differences, which,
in turn, can generate different moods. Even taste and smell, which typically
play less of a role in the experience of paintings, are also activated. Since
the house uses traditional, natural building materials such as aromatic hinoki (Japanese cypress) and the rice
straw tatami flooring, the house has
a natural smell compared to, say, a sanitized museum. But the easy access to
the adjacent garden also provides a variety of natural smells that make the
paintings less of an object to be gazed at than a constituent part that complements
the overall environment. And, finally, taste is activated through the simple
act of drinking water, which somehow becomes more delicious in such a setting.
Alternatively, the Japanese tea ceremony is often held in the large room, and,
if you were to participate in this, the thick, pungent flavor of the matcha green tea would further activate
taste. Sitting on the tatami mat,
smelling the tea that wafts together with the smell of the house and garden,
feeling the warmth of the tea bowl in your hands and then the ambient
temperature of the room, looking up from the rich green tea to the paintings,
you might note the subtle shade of green blended there and then look across to
the garden and the green in blossom. In such a setting, you would feel not so much
a visitor as a friend.
one’s experience of the paintings and the environment mutually enrich one
another. On one hand, the unique spatial environment supports the rich bodily
experience at Shofuso that will change with each different temporal experience.
On the other hand, the paintings also contribute to this synesthetic immersion.
Musing on what makes Claude Monet’s (1840–1926) paintings so great, Senju
concludes, “You paint giving visible form to the things you cannot see—the sound of the wind, the temperature,
impresses your five senses when you hold the brush. This is Claude Monet’s
painting. What Claude Monet’s painting shows and what we are taught by it is,
‘Art is that which makes you see what you cannot see.’” So, art has an important role not in
distinction from nature and everyday life but in support of both, helping
humans to remember their condition as embodied beings in a vibrant environment
teeming with unique experiences available in each particular place and each
particular moment. Yet, this integrative experience of the body within
space and time is not merely material. Rather, as we have seen, Senju
emphasizes that a primary goal of his art is to activate the viewer’s memory
and imagination. Seeing the brilliant paintings, hearing the waterfall in the
garden, feeling the breeze that blows through, as if additionally cooled by the
waterfalls, smelling the faint scent of cypress and rice straw, all of this
creates a thoroughly spatio-temporal event grounded in the particularity of the
present, an event that also activates the visitor’s memory and opens a horizon
for a constructive future.
relations across space and time
The spatial and temporal intersections evoked by
Senju’s paintings at Shofuso reflect the Japanese philosopher Watsuji Tetsurō’s (1889–1960) notion that space and time are
meaningful as expressions of human attempts to communicate and relate. In his Rinrigaku (倫理学, Ethics, 1945), recognized as one of the
defining works on the subject in twentieth-century Japanese philosophy, Watsuji
critiques ethical theories that overemphasize the individual. Watsuji argues
that the Japanese word for human (人間, ningen) provides
a different perspective. Combining two Chinese characters, 人 (hito, person) and 間 (aida, between), the word highlights the
dual nature of humans as individuals and as members of multiple social
are basically different from society and yet dissolve themselves into society. Ningen denotes the unity of these
contradictories.” For Watsuji,
this suggests a dialectical structure to human existence, where the self
separates itself from the group but returns itself to the whole while not negating
its individuality. This
dialectical movement constitutes the human experience of space and time. Humans
move and meet through space, shaping it in a way that makes it conducive to
creating and sustaining relationships. This gives places and things a
“subjective spatiality” as carriers of human intentions.
Likewise, time orients human attempts to relate to others. In Watsuji’s example,
the present moment of walking to meet a friend looks towards a future relation,
a meeting, but is also rooted in a past relationship that is the original
impetus for the movement. Thus
each present moment as humans cross through space marks a point of intersection
that “consists of the unity of the possible betweenness, as well as the already
established one.” So,
spatiality and temporality, while distinct, are of a piece.
ethical ideal, then, is a continual traversing movement where the individual
separates from the whole and then returns to the whole, “culminating in
a nondualistic connection between the self and others that actually negates any
trace of opposition,” and
the arts are a significant means for concretely expressing this. For example,
speaking about the accomplishment of Japanese gardens, Watsuji comments:
The unity achieved in this is not one of geometrical proportion but,
rather, a harmonization of forces which appeals to our sensibilities—what I
would call an accord of “spirit”.
Just as between two human beings there can be a point in their relationship at
which the ‘spirit’ of the one gets into accord with that of the other, so we
can see a similar kind of relatedness between a garden’s rocks and its moss or
even between one rock and another.
And Senju’s paintings, as I have attempted to show,
extend this relationship between art and nature, too, creating spatio-temporal
intersections that cross differences, linking humans and nature, and also
humans to humans, by actively engaging the imagination. As Senju says, “Through my works, the audience will
think about their roots, as if the painting were a mirror to their memories.
This shared memory defines art as a
power to break any boundaries between people….”
Via the imagination Senju aims to cross both time, prompting one in the present
to draw on memory and look to a common future, and space, crossing the space
between other minds and cultivating meaningful relationships.
Recalling and applying Brady’s modes of imagination,
exploratory and projective imagination are active in a variety of ways at
Shofuso, such as connecting the painted waterfalls to the waterfall in the
garden, linking the colors in the painting with the garden’s colors, or perhaps
envisioning the waterfalls as akin to the flow of blood in one’s circulatory
system, among other options. Ampliative imagination expands the connection
between the inside paintings and outside nature, as one may imagine how the
paintings would appear in other seasons or times of day. For example, when I visited
Shofuso in the heat of June, one of the workers commented on how mysterious the
paintings are on a foggy day, which prompted me to consider how this may look
and feel. And this may incite one to think of other waterfalls encountered in
one’s past experiences, arousing memories of how these felt and the unique
moment they contribute to one’s life. Finally, these experiences may lead to
revelatory imagination, perhaps seen in the sameness/difference of the uniform
drips across the paintings in both rooms, connecting with the continual
transience yet sameness of nature, encouraging a greater awareness of these
same features in one’s self, and consolidating a sense of the unity between
nature and humans or, as Senju says, “a mind of harmony.” In this way, the
spatio-temporal intersection between nature and art at Shofuso, crossing those
experiences of the co-presence of opposites Ronald Hepburn speaks of, can
provide an empathetic experience that may inspire one to envision other
possibilities of living with nature and one’s built environment.
Now more than ever, humans must have the imagination
to see the environment, both natural and built, as a spatio-temporal
commonplace, a meeting place where difference may be shared without being
erased. As Barbara Sandrisser notes, cultivating such commonplaces “requires that we first value existing
places for their deep-rooted aesthetic and spiritual impact on our lives, and
then seek to create new kinds of commonplaces that convey our respect for
future generations, since they will be the caretakers.” Such
a task weaves epistemological, ethical, and aesthetic ways of thinking and
being that depend on fostering lively imaginations that, to recall Kearney, can
represent the past, empathize with others, and envision new possibilities.
Senju’s shimmering waterfalls at Shofuso enact a way of doing this, attracting
us, instructing us, and encouraging us to go and do likewise.
L. Doebler is the Kettering Postdoctoral Curatorial Assistant in Asian Art at
The Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He holds a Ph.D. in Art and Religion
from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and his research focuses on
comparative religious aesthetics.
Published on June 13, 2017.
 I would like to
thank the two anonymous reviewers for Contemporary
Aesthetics who provided encouraging and helpful comments that improved the
essay at key points.
 Ronald Hepburn,
“Landscape and the Metaphysical Imagination,” Environmental Values, 5,
3 (1996), 191–204; ref. on 192. Hepburn goes on to specify that, “Metaphysical
imagination connects with, looks to, the ‘spelled out’ systematic metaphysical
theorising which is its support and ultimate
justification. But also it is no less an element of the concrete present
landscape-experience: it is fused with the sensory components, not a meditation
aroused by these.” (192)
 Hiroshi Senju,
“Flatwater,” in 軽井沢千住博美術館/Hiroshi Senju
Museum Karuizawa, vol. 1 (Karuizawa, Japan: Hiroshi Senju Museum Karuizawa,
2013), pp. 65–70; ref. on p. 65, bracket original. The English translation is
included in the work.
 More information on
the Shofuso Japanese House can be found at the organization’s website http://www.japanesehouse.org. I wish to thank
Shofuso for their kind permission to reproduce photos of Senju’s paintings.
 See Yuichi Ozawa, Story of Shofuso: A Cultural Bridge between
Japan and the United States (Philadelphia: Friends of the Japanese House
and Garden, 2010), p. 7.
 These include a fixed painting in the alcove of the larger room, and sliding doors on a
 While Senju’s
paintings are clearly not of specific, natural waterfalls, he studies
first-hand waterfalls across the globe, from Hawai‘i to the Amazon, and makes
use of photographs for his paintings. See Rachel Baum, “Variations
on Themes: Hiroshi Senju’s Explorations of Nature,” in Hiroshi Senju, Rachel Baum and Michaël Amy (Milan: Skira, 2009),
pp. 15–27; ref. on pp. 15 and 20.
 Hiroshi Senju,
“Hiroshi Senju,” OWN, No.1, February,
2007, 52–57; ref. on 53.
 See Richard Kearney,
Poetics of Imagining: Modern to
Post-modern, new edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998), pp.
 See Emily Brady,
“Imagination and the Aesthetic Appreciation of Nature,” in The Aesthetics of Natural Environments, ed. Allen Carlson and
Arnold Berleant (Peterborough, OT: Broadview Press, 2004), pp. 156–169; ref. on
 Ibid., p. 163. This bears a resemblance to Hepburn’s notion of
 The need for such a
vocabulary was made most clear in Ronald Hepburn, “Contemporary Aesthetics and
the Neglect of Natural Beauty,” in British
Analytical Philosophy, ed. Bernard Williams and Alan Montefiore (London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), pp. 285–310.
 Yuriko Saito,
“Environmental Directions for Aesthetics and the Arts,” in Environment and the Arts: Perspectives on Environmental Aesthetics,
ed. Arnold Berleant (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 171–186; ref. on p. 173.
 See ibid., pp. 174–75.
 Emily Brady, Aesthetics and the Natural Environment
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2003), p. 66.
 See Arnold Berleant,
The Aesthetics of Environment (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1992), pp. 151–55.
 Ibid., p. 167. See also Arto Haapala’s comment that, “The ways
humans have seen and experienced nature have changed over time. In this sense,
nature is of our making.” Arto Haapala, “Art and Nature: The Interplay of Works
of Art and Natural Phenomena,” in Environment
and the Arts: Perspectives on Environmental Aesthetics, ed. Arnold Berleant
(Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), pp. 47–60; ref. on p. 57.
 Quoted in Ozawa, op. cit., p. 48.
Senju, 美術の核心, Bijutsu no
kakushin, [The Heart of Art] (Tokyo: Bunshun Shinsho, 2008), pp. 116–17. All references to
this work are my translation.
 For more on the
choice of materials, see Ozawa, op. cit.,
 Senju, Bijutsu no kakushin, p. 117.
 Yuriko Saito, Everyday Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2008), p. 188, italics original.
 Hiroshi Senju, わたしが芸術について語るなる, Watashi
ga geijutsu nitsuite katarunaru, [If I speak about art] (Tokyo: Poplar-sha,
2011), p. 35. All references to this work are my translation.
 Watsuji Tetsurō, Watsuji
Tetsurō’s Rinrigaku: Ethics in Japan, trans. Yamamoto Seisaku and Robert E. Carter
(Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), p. 15.
 See ibid., pp. 157 and 164–65.
 This space/time
relation is also expressed in Watsuji’s reflections on climate, notably
expressed in his Fūdo, translated in English as Climate and Culture: A Philosophical Study, trans. Geoffrey Bownas
(New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), which, for Watsuji, is both geographical
and cultural. As Robert Carter explains, “Climate
is correspondent with spaciality, whereas history is correspondent with
temporality. Climate and human social history are mutually determining. … To
the extent that we are environmentally conditioned, we are not shapers of our
environment. To the extent that we are shapers of our environment, we are not
environmentally conditioned.” Robert Carter, “Interpretive Essay: Strands of Influence,” in Watsuji Tetsurō’s Rinrigaku:
Ethics in Japan, trans. Yamamoto
Seisaku and Robert E. Carter (Albany: State University of New York Press,
1996), pp. 325–354; ref. on p. 336.
 Carter, op.
cit., p. 343.
 Watsuji Tetsurō, Fūdo (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1967), p. 190, italics original. Quoted in William F. LaFleur,
“Buddhist Emptiness in the Ethics and Aesthetics of Watsuji Tetsurō,” Religious Studies 14/2 (June 1978), pp.
237–250; ref. on p. 246.
 Senju, “Hiroshi
Senju,” p. 53, italics added.
 Barbara Sandrisser,
“Cultivating Commonplaces: Sophisticated Vernacularism in Japan,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism,
56, 2 (1998), 201–210; ref. on 208–09.