The pick of the class of '94: 10,000 slides and six days later, the judges of the British Telecom New Contemporaries competition have picked six artists to watch. By Dalya Alberge

After three and a half days of looking at 10,000 slides of works of art, and a further three days examining a shortlist of 30 of the most promising, the judges of this year's British Telecom New Contemporaries competition, one of Britain's leading showcases for new talent, have emerged with a list of six winners, each of whom will receive pounds 1,000.

Selected by Rachel Whiteread, winner of the 1993 Turner Prize, Patricia Bickers, editor of Art Monthly, and Barry Barker, a curator, the winners follow in the footsteps of artists such as Frank Auerbach and Howard Hodgkin. Both were discovered through this event, first held in 1949.

Choosing from the work of 1,000 students or recent graduates of art schools nation-wide, the judges each came up with the same six names on their shortlist. Or rather, they didn't. All the entrants were judged anonymously. The judges didn't know the artist's age, gender or college. 'We looked for works that showed conviction,' explains Whiteread. Above all, says Barker, they looked for works that hit them with the same intensity as the first paragraph of a good short story. They applauded the idea of having six winners - so much fairer than putting one artist on a pedestal above all others.

Among them was Fiona Banner, 27, who graduated from Goldsmiths' MA course last September, after six years of study that has included Kingston Polytechnic and Camberwell. Her entry was inspired by The Hunt for Red October, the 1990 film adaptation of Tom Clancy's novel about a runaway Soviet nuclear submarine. Her work is a blow-by-blow account of the film, handwritten in pencil across a sheet of paper some 12 metres long. 'That's what most people are interested in,' she says, 'the physical endeavour of having written all that.' The mass of text is displayed so that it is reflected in eight panels of blown-up images of an Airfix Trident submarine. As she was using a 'political' film, she was making 'statements', 'but I don't like to talk about them.'

The judges were moved by 24-year-old Franke Eigen's black and white photographs - close-ups of a building torched in a racial attack on a Vietnamese family in Berlin. Images by this Royal College of Art student are enlarged so that a blistering wall looks like splattered blood or tear-drops. 'Very beautiful,' says Bickers.

It was the Alice in Wonderland quality of a video by Lucy Gunning, 29, that earned her recognition. This Goldsmiths' student filmed a young girl in a party frock climbing round a room without letting her feet touch the ground. The trio found it both sentimental and sinister. Videos by Nick Harris, 30, a graduate of Sheffield Hallam University, were judged to be 'haunting and unforgettable'. He synchronised a musical soundtrack to match the speed of the action - film images of children in a playground. And paintings with indecipherable jottings scratched into their surfaces by Dez Lawrence, 23, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art, were an example, they agreed, of work with 'conviction'.

The adjudicators seemed most taken with the trapeze piece by Diana Lorenzo Saxby, 26, in her third year at Goldsmiths. This mixed-media installation involves two projectors linked by a tape-loop: as the minute-long tape revolves, two images of a performing trapeze artist are projected on to opposite walls. They are the same image, but one is life-size, the other no larger than a postcard. The tape-loop links the projectors like a trapeze wire, 'it is part of the fragility of the piece, the riskiness', says Lorenzo.

For the chosen few, this is a chance to be seen nation-wide, and beyond college walls - 'which can be very restrictive and safe', as Lorenzo puts it. 'I've been floating in space since I heard the news,' she adds. 'But I don't want to get too high. I've got a degree show to prepare.'

BT New Contemporaries: Camden Arts Centre, London, NW3, 6 May-12 June. Then, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth, Bradford.

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