Notes on / after Dream After Dream

Exhibition notes by Shotaro Ikeda on Karl Castro’s artist-in residence exhibition

Photos by Karl Castro

The theme of this exhibition, “Expo 70,” is based on the project “The Art of (Ex) Positioning: Reassessing Philippine Participation at Expo ’70’” by Karl Castro. The theme “Expo” seems commonplace for Osaka in 2023. However, looking at Castro’s past works, preliminary research, and spending time with him since his arrival in Osaka, I realised that his past practice and the theme of the “Expo” were closely related, and that his interest and curiosity (or even it could be said his sense of mission) for the topic is enormous.

In addition to himself as an artist and working as a designer and university teacher, Karl Castro is the co-administrator and chief researcher for the social media account Brutalist Pilipinas, which archives Brutalist architecture in the Philippines, collector of indigenous arts and crafts, and contributes to protests and humanitarian causes. As a member of Concerned Artists of the Philippines, an artist organisation that provides support and seeks equity in Philippine society, he engages in interdisciplinary and socially inclusive and engaged activities.

His works are wide-ranging, and he has been involved in exhibitions in a variety of ways, from producing and presenting his own pieces/projects to curating and designing their visual identities. His art practice is based on each of these, and all are inseparable and work like mutual aid. Therefore, it is no wonder that The World’s Fair, which includes economics, design, science, architecture, the performing and visual arts, politics, nationalism, etc., of spectacle and exploitation on a large scale, appealed to his sensibility, intellect, and reason in many ways.

During his stay in Osaka, Castro collected more than twice as many Expo-related materials and goods as he exhibited at the gallery, including Japanese books related to the Philippines, to make an archive library back home. The look in his eyes as he collected them was like that of a kid in a candy shop, but simultaneously that of a prosecutor calmly flipping through evidence while holding back his rage.

His ambivalent attitude towards the Expo can also be seen from his perspective on the pavilion designed by Leandro V. Locsin, a brutalist architect who was active during the Marcos administration. One of Leandro V. Locsin’s masterpieces, the pavilion, which only existed for a few months, was fascinating to Castro, and even mystical because it no longer exists. However, he reads and confronts the domestic predicaments at the time which lay behind the aesthetic and luxurious architecture, the national agenda of the Marcos dictatorship presented in the Philippine Pavilion, and the deceptions such as the incorporation of ethnic minorities and domestic oppression.

I assume that it is not easy to maintain an attitude of being aesthetically captivated by this antinomy and, at the same time, confronting the deception behind it. In the Philippines, where the footsteps of the dictatorship can still be heard, the work “To Mint A Memory” in this exhibition conveys an ambiguous and tenacious inquisitive spirit rather than transient pleasures and naivety. The work also resonates with the anti-dictatorship movement that lasted from 1970 to the present.

By the way, what exactly was the reason behind my immediate feeling that the Expo is “commonplace”?

Soon after he spent time in Osaka, he told me he was surprised at how little interest Osaka people had in the Expo. Although it is a city of a size that can be classified as a metropolis in the world, it has a strong regional character. It is a city that seems like people-to-people, unlike nation-to-nation. In such a city, Osaka, a “national project” called “Expo” will be held. In the first place, the absurdity of holding out-of-date international spectacles such as the Olympics and World’s Fair in today’s Japan in an outdated way is absolutely ridiculous. Since the decision was made to hold the event, some people have been conducting research on the 1970 World Expo, and holding discussions and study sessions in public. Still, both from a first-hand perspective and public opinion polls, there is generally no interest. In fact, there is a feeling of dismay after the Olympics 2020. With many question marks already buzzing in the media, will the 3.8 billion yen (From the House of Councilors Budget Committee on 27 November 2023)  momentum-building expense gain momentum? How should this sense of discomfort be expressed?


The sense of “commonplace” that passed through my mind may have been a mockery to turn away from something I didn’t want to face. Whereas Karl did it head-on in his own way, which encouraged me.

Another thing that Karl said was how impressive it is that even though the Expo took place in 1970, you can still find remnants of the Expo around Expo Park and sometimes even in coffee shops on street corners in the city. He said that there are not many things from events 53 years ago that remain in the Philippines. This possibly could be explained to some extent by population distribution and social structure. However, there was a moment that made me a little startled when I found a laminated sheet of paper placed on a bookshelf near the entrance of the Osaka Prefectural  Expo’s Archive Room, which we visited for our research on this project. It states: “The 1970 Japan World Exposition, the first international event in Asia, will be preserved for future generations so that all ‘documents’ will remain as substantial evidence, not only for Japan but also for the world. — Secretary General Shinichi Arai.”

Ongoing construction at Yumeshima (literally, Dream Island), Osaka, which is being reclaimed as venue for Expo 2025. Author photo dated 17 January 2024.

Related Article: Karl Castro’s experience in Osaka and its influence in shaping his exhibition Dream After Dream. Read the full article here.

More to Read on Suki


A Fleeting Beauty words and photos by  Jane J. Panganiban It is quite well known that flowers have always played an important role in Japanese

Read More »