The battle of Trafalgar Square: six artists vie for fourth plinth spot

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Nelson still has another 18 months to treasure looking down at the bottled replica of his flagship HMS Victory from atop his column. But already the battle has begun among the next armada of contenders vying to catch the admiral's eye.

The fourth plinth in London's Trafalgar Square – occupied at the moment by Yinka Shonibare's Nelson's Ship in a Bottle – has in the past decade become a stage for works of contemporary art. And six artworks were shortlisted yesterday to be considered to become the next installation on the plinth in time for the 2012 Olympics.

Two British artists, Hew Locke and Brian Griffiths, will see each of their ideas pitted against those of the duos Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, and Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Proposals from the German artists Katharina Fritsch and Mariele Neudecker were also each shortlisted.

The full details of the proposals remain under wraps, but the public will have its say in a month's time when miniature versions go on display in the crypt of the nearby St Martin-in-the-Fields church. Iwona Blazwick, the director of the Whitechapel Gallery and one of the eight-strong fourth plinth commissioning group, confirmed each of the entries is a sculpture – unlike Antony Gormley's One and Other, which involved members of the public having stints on the plinth. However, Ms Blazwick hinted that one submission also has a peformance aspect with a musical instrument.

"All of the artists have played off something that is absolutely specific to Trafalgar Square and its history, they've really enjoyed working with that," said Ms Blazwick. "The idea of site-specific art is very important. The idea of an artist beavering away in their studio in a disconnected way has really changed in the last 20 years."

She added the proposals were "incredibly diverse". "If you'd done this 50 years ago, I think we would just have had the post-Henry Moore language of sculpture as modernist abstraction was happening in Europe, North and Latin America," she said. "It's really exciting to see the richness and diversity of what people are proposing. They add a whole new register to what we've seen in the square."

The artist Brian Griffiths has been described as a "junk shop Viking" and a "backyard crusader" for the way his artworks incorporate whatever he can get his hands on – from string and cardboard boxes to old furniture and bits of broken household knick-knacks in his sculptures.

Hew Locke's pieces hold a similar hunger for inventiveness, not least in their striking assortments of colour. His House of Windsor collection featured effigies of the Queen and Princess Diana made out of jewellery, textiles and cutlery.

The joint entry from Denmark's Michael Elmgreen and Norway's Ingar Dragset could be particularly arresting too, given the playful relationship their works often hold with the landscapes they inhabit. In 2005, the duo created Prada Marfa, a life-size mock-up of a Prada fashion boutique that stands spookily alone beside a quiet highway in the middle of the Texan desert. Katharina Fritsch is known for her striking figurines, while fellow German Mariele Neudecker has caught attention for her haunting installations. The musical idea is perhaps most likely to come from her, or the American-Cuban duo Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who have previously worked with combinations of sculpture, photography, performance, sound and video.

The contenders: by Hannah Duguid

Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset A sombre wit underpins the serious nature of work by the Scandanavian couple who have collaborated since they met in 1995. They have made work in memory of gay victims of the Nazi regime and, in 2005, they built a Prada boutique in the middle of the Texan desert. Whatever their proposal for Trafalgar Square, we hope they don't lose their sense of humour.

Mariele Neudecker German born, 45-year-old Neudecker made her name with sculptures of landscapes, placed inside glass vitrines. Self-contained worlds, that come out of the Romantic tradition in art – although her work is anything but traditional. She used the cry of seagulls on London's Millenium bridge in 2008. And she sank a boat and a house underwater that question our relationship with the environment.

Allora & Calzadilla Allora and Calzadilla are an artist couple who live in Puerto Rico. Their work is usually political and they have a strong reputation in the UK. At the Serpentine gallery in 2007 they made a large chamber, like a war bunker, and inside musicians played military music. They work in many mediums, using film, sound, sculpture, performance and photography.

Hew Locke Locke's work explores colonial themes in an exuberant kind of pop art. He has played with ideas about the British royal family. Princess Diana became a voodoo doll and he covered a figure of the Queen Mother with skulls. He critiques the past, looking at how our world interrelates: from African wars to empire, pop culture to Shakespeare.

Katharina Fritsch Like the Surrealists, Fritsch is known for artwork that makes the familiar appear strange and uncanny. Born in Germany, Fritsch has represented her country at the Venice Biennale and had major exhibitions at London museums. Giant rats and monochrome men wearing suits appear in her work, which have popular as well as critical appeal. She is a mature artist and her proposal will be polished and spectacular.

Brian Griffiths An eccentric sense of adventure runs through sculptures by Griffiths. A graduate of Goldsmiths college, the British artist has used old furniture to construct an elaborate wooden gyspy caravan. His work plays with myth as well as history and his sculpture comes from an imaginary world as fantastical as a child's. No doubt, his proposal for the Fourth Plinth will be made from old junk but his idea, we hope, will contain a touch of magic.

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